It does say something about the healthy state of Indian ODI team that the selection committee announcement for the last 50-overs series before the World Cup was a boring affair. Generally, with the biggest ICC tournament around the corner, selection meetings are about those selectorial cliches of ‘getting the balance right’ or ‘deciding the winning combination’. However, such is the serenity around India’s limited-overs build-ups that the judgement day buzz was conspicuous by its absence.
For a team that hasn’t lost an ODI series since 2015, there is a general consensus on the playing XI for the World Cup’s opening game. What remains now is dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s – like looking for injury back-ups. Dinesh Karthik vs Rishabh Pant, Khaleel Ahmed vs Sidharth Kaul are the kind of questions that don’t really give the selectors or the fans sleepless nights.
Considering IPL is close by, injuries can’t be ruled out and so that bench-strength does need to be fortified.
The only source of real excitement about the team combination kicks in when Ravi Shastri decides to stir the pot a bit. As he did when he spoke about Virat Kohli might be used as a No. 4.
The fans of Karthik, who recently spoke about the different captaincy styles of MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli, and Rohit Sharma, would be disappointed that he hasn’t found a place against Australia. Pant does. In the words of MSK Prasad, the chief selector, it will be a shoot out between the two and it was only reasonable that Pant also got a fair run in ODIs to make his case.
“Definitely, because prior to this, we had two series in New Zealand and Australia that’s where Karthik was chosen, because Rishabh played four Test matches, so we wanted him to get a good break. He had a 20 days break, then he played couple of One-day matches against England Lions where he did extremely well, then we send him to T20 matches (in New Zealand). So, we want to give him a few ODIs before taking a final call,” Prasad said.
One did get the impression that Pant would go through for the World Cup, unless he has a really poor IPL, as Prasad spoke about trying to fit him even in top order. Asked if Pant could be considered as an opener (reserve) if he doesn’t fit in the middle order, Prasad said ‘yes’. “We will try and figure out the best possible batting position because there is an advantage of playing left-right combination, we are discussing on that.” Asked whether he can be seen as an opener or a spot in the top of the order, Prasad said, “Yes”. One suspects, it will come down to what Kohli and Shastri think.
Similar talk surfaced about Sidharth Kaul, who has been inducted in the squad. Kaul will be part of the two T20s and the first three ODIs before being replaced by Bhuveshwar Kumar for the final two matches. Once again, the same response from Prasad.
“Khaleel has been playing for the last two series, we have seen him and we would like to see Siddharth Kaul also. We have shortlisted about 18 players and we are going to rotate all of them.”
In the days leading up to selection, there was some speculation regarding Jaydev Unadkat being tried out as it was said that Indian management was keen on having a left-arm pacer in the mix but that seems to have been knocked out by the selectors.
Apart from that there isn’t much in the names to sweat about. Well, there is that case of KL Rahul, drafted in as reserve opener in the ODI squad. But for all his poor form in Tests, he can’t be ignored as the reserve opener in ODIs. And in this case, if the thinking is that Pant is the first choice as reserve opener (going by what Prasad said), then Rahul as second reserve opener choice isn’t all that bad.
It reminds one of the 1987 World Cup build up.
Back then, again, there wasn’t much talk about the team as it was all more or less settled and they had looked pretty good on paper with Manoj Prabhakar batting at No. 10. That team had one bad day and combusted in the semis. The aim of the current selectors is to prevent that kind of meltdown and have a team of players ready and fit.
For the players who are being considered as bench-strength, the IPL will play a big role. If Dinesh Karthik has a spectacular performance there and overshadows Pant, then he might get a look in.
Ditto with the pacers – Khaleel or Kaul. Those who think T20 performances in IPL shouldn’t count for ODIs, they need to wake up and smell the Indian coffee. It did, it does, and it will continue to have an effect.
India squads for home series vs Australia
1st & 2nd ODIs: Virat Kohli (Capt), Rohit Sharma (VC), Shikhar Dhawan, Ambati Rayudu, Kedar Jadhav, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (WK), Hardik Pandya, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohamed Shami, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Vijay Shankar, Rishabh Pant, Siddharth Kaul, KL Rahul
Remaining three ODIs: Virat Kohli (Capt), Rohit Sharma (vc), Shikhar Dhawan, Ambati Rayudu, Kedar Jadhav, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (WK), Hardik Pandya, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Vijay Shankar, KL Rahul, Rishabh Pant
T20I series: Virat Kohli (Capt), Rohit Sharma (VC), KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Rishabh Pant, Dinesh Karthik, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (WK), Hardik Pandya, Krunal Pandya, Vijay Shankar, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav, Sidharth Kaul, Mayank Markande.