India’s chairman of selectors MSK Prasad has said Rishabh Pant, Vijay Shankar and Ajinkya Rahane are all in contention to seal a place in the ICC World Cup 2019 squad. He said barring the “one odd” position, the 15-man squad has been zeroed in by the selectors. Pant has been labelled as a “healthy headache”, while Vijay, a batting allrounder, has brought in a new dimension to the selection with his performance in New Zealand.
“His progress in the last one year has been phenomenal across formats. We felt he needs a bit of maturity now, to gain more experience. That is reason we have included him in India A series wherever possible. The hundred he got in the Sydney Test, the 73 he got for India A on a testing pitch against England Lions recently speaks of his maturity. Against the Lions, India A were struggling, and everybody thought they had lost the match, but Rishabh showed skill and patience to win the match,” said Prasad on Pant in an interview to ESPNCricinfo.
Pant has played only three ODIs thus far in a young career – all against West Indies in 2018 – but his impressive form in Test cricket and for India A in the year gone by has received a positive appraisal from the selectors. Prasad admitted that his opinion of Pant has now changed. The left-hander is now being seen as someone who is showing maturity at the highest level and commitment to the team’s cause.
Alongside Dinesh Karthik, Pant was earlier seen as the back-up wicketkeeper for MS Dhoni. However, with Karthik having settled down in the lower order in the past 12 months, the selectors are now looking if Pant can be included as a specialist batsman.
The place in the side may have opened up due to the drop in form of KL Rahul. Since the South Africa tour last year, KL Rahul has played just three ODIs – all against England – and was recently suspended for his comments and appearance on ‘Koffee with Karan’. The suspension was lifted with KL Rahul playing for India A against England Lions. He scored 13, 42, 0 and 89 in the four innings. Prasad pointed out that KL Rahul remains in contention to make the India squad but needs to pick up form.
In contrast, Shankar has now come into consideration with a promising display during the T20Is in New Zealand, where he was asked to bat at No. 3 in Virat Kohli’s absence. After India lost the third T20I and the series in Hamilton, the Tamil Nadu allrounder said he was “surprised” to bat at No. 3, where he made a 28-ball 43.
Prasad agreed that Vijay would be the fourth allrounder in the pool of 20 players the selectors have drawn up to then further cull the squad to final 15. “In whatever opportunities he has got, Vijay Shankar has shown the skillsets required at this level. We have been grooming him through India A tours in the last two years. But we will have to see where he can fit in the dynamics of this team.”
Until England tour last year, KL Rahul was being considered as the third opener. “In England he could have done well. I was very disappointed when he failed against West Indies at home. But with his style of play we thought he would definitely do well in Australia because he had done well on the previous tour [2014-15] there, and pace and bounce suit his game better. Unfortunately he did not deliver. It is a definitely a cause of concern. Having said that, he is a class act and he is just a good knock away. That is why we have put him in the India A team currently playing the England Lions. [Rahul scored 89 against England Lions the day this interview was conducted.]”
“All of us have confidence him. Take that century in the Manchester T20. He is a batsman of supreme class. He has definitely failed in red-ball cricket, but you cannot look at red-ball form in white-ball cricket. That is what we as selectors ought to consider. Also he has had limited opportunities to play in ODIs owing to the good form of the regular opening pair of Rohit [Sharma] and Shikhar. Even in the Asia Cup, he sat out. That did not help him. So not only was he was failing in Test cricket, the majority of the time he was sitting out in white-ball cricket. So that failure got magnified.”
With KL Rahul struggling for form, Rahane is once again being considered an option. Although he has not played in ODIs since last year’s South Africa tour, Rahane has been consistent in List A cricket: 597 runs in 11 innings at an average of 74.62 with two big hundreds and three fifties. Two of those fifties came for India A in the unofficial ODI series against England Lions last month. “I was a bit concerned during the England Test series, but he did well in Australia. Even in domestic cricket, he has been in form. He is very much in contention for the World Cup. What I mean to say is, he has not been ruled out. We want to see how he does in the near future.”
“I am sure the runs that he got in Australia in a winning cause will give him confidence. In Test cricket Ajinkya is one of the most important players for India. He gives solidity in the middle order.”