Cricket

India's World Cup squad: Talking points


TALKING POINTS

Ambati Rayudu losing out to Vijay Shankar

The inclusion of Vijay Shankar into India’s World Cup squad is nothing short of a fairytale story. Only as far back as four months back, the 28-year old all-rounder was not even in the fold for the marquee event. But as destiny would have it, he was drafted into the ODI squad for Australia and New Zealand after the suspension handed out to Hardik Pandya, expected to serve as a like-for-like replacement.

There wouldn’t be many opportunities in Australia for Shankar, as he played just the one ODI without getting a chance to bat. But it was in New Zealand that he showed his mettle in the only real chance he got. After a top-order collapse in Wellington, coming in at 18/4, Shankar gave a fine account of himself, especially his technique, and showed that he belonged, while leading India’s recovery.

As fate would have it, India were fretting over the No. 4 spot at this point, and with his solidity, Shankar tempted them. Ambati Rayudu, who was the front-runner only a few months back, had endured a slight dip in form, but still, an average of 42.60 since the start of the Asia Cup meant that the dip wasn’t alarming.

However, chairman of selectors MSK Prasad alluded to the ‘three-dimensional’ abilities of Shankar that went in his favour over Rayudu and confirmed that the all-rounder will be the preferred No. 4 “to begin with”, despite having never played in that position before.

“What Vijay Shankar offers is three dimensional, apart from his batting he can bowl,” Prasad said. “If the conditions are overcast, which we might encounter in England, he might bowl a bit and he’s a fantastic fielder. That’s the thing that went in favour of him.”

“Well it’s not anything that went against him (Rayudu). It’s only the thing that went in favour of Vijay Shankar. Because he adds a bit more dimensions to that role. With his fielding and bowling abilities, that’s where he scored ahead of him,” Prasad further elaborated.

KL Rahul’s role in the top order

That KL Rahul has talent in abundance is in no question. He’s given glimpses of that here and there, mostly in the T20 format with some breathtaking innings. And so India have tried hard to fit him into their ODI set-up, without tinkering with the settled opening combination of Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan. But Rahul, an opening batsman by trade, hasn’t really fired the way they’ve wanted to. They’ve tried to fit him at No. 4, it’s not worked. Kohli has even dropped down to No. 4 so that Rahul can bat at three, with talk – from head coach Ravi Shastri no less – that it might be the possible way to go for the World Cup, and that could still be a possiblity if the gamble on Vijay Shankar at No. 4 fails.

Prasad, though, confirmed that Rahul will start off as the reserve opener, and wasn’t an automatic starter. “To begin with he [Rahul] will only be a reserve opener, if need arises it all depends on the team management’s call.”

Karthik over Pant

When Dinesh Karthik was dropped for the ODI series at home against Australia, it looked like it was the end of the road for his World Cup aspirations. That was the last piece of ODI cricket lined up for India before heading to England, and if that was any cue, it was that Rishabh Pant – picked for the aforementioned series – was in pole position.

Eventually though, Pant didn’t capitalize on the opportunities he got, much like Karthik hadn’t on the tour of Australia and the Asia Cup prior to that. There was a case for both of them missing out. But, straying on the side of caution in the event of an injury to MS Dhoni, the selectors decided to include a back-up keeper and went with the experience of the Tamil Nadu player, as well as his superior wicket-keeping skills, instead of gambling on the X-factor that Pant, who has just five ODI caps, brings.

“Well, it’s definitely a case where we have debated in length,” Prasad said. “And all of, in unison, we felt that either Rishabh Pant or DK will come into the playing eleven, if Mahi is injured. So at that juncture, if it is a crucial match like a quarterfinals or a semifinals or an important game, wicketkeeping also matters. that’s the only reason we went with Dinesh Karthik. Otherwise, Rishabh Pant was almost there.”

And there’s also the chance that Karthik or Kedar Jadhav to fit into the much-talked about No. 4 position, as Prasad alluded to.

No fourth seamer?

Australia’s World Cup squad, which was announced earlier today as well, had five proper pace options featuring in it. India have three viz. Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami.

It is very possible, the way India have been lining up recently, that only two of them will make the final XI. So, in a way, it’s understandable why there are just three proper seamers in India’s 15-man squad.

“In the team, apart from the two spinners we also have Kedar Jadhav. I think we have the luxury of seven bowlers. I think we have covered all bases that way if you look at it. I think this is one of the most balanced sides that we have produced,” Prasad stated.

Prasad also added that they will have four medium-pacers travelling along with the team for some duration to help out in practice. Two of the names leading that list include Navdeep Saini and Khaleel Ahmed.

The role of Ravindra Jadeja

Remember the Champions Trophy in England back in 2013, and the role India’s spin duo of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja played in their triumph? It was significant. Back then, the pitches were dry and the ball turned. And that’s been the trend in England recently, especially with the new drainage systems of most modern venues which leaves the square too dry.

And when it’s turning sharply, there’s hardly anyone better than Ravindra Jadeja – with his stump-to-stump lines – to exploit it.

Jadeja’s batting abilities add the strongest value for his case of making the playing XI, with India’s lower-order looking very fragile otherwise. The inclusion of Shami over Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the first eleven will mean that none of their lower-order can provide those extra runs at the end.

Not to mention that the left-handed all-rounder is still India’s best fielder.

Possibility of changes in squad?

Prasad ruled out any changes to the squad that has been announced, unless there’s an injury, as he believed that “this is the best possible team that can give us the World Cup”.

He also dismissed suggestions that IPL performances had a bearing on the selection. “We have said are very much close to picking the side that we picked against Australia, so I don’t really see the IPL form. If you go by the IPL form, there are other people who have done exceptionally well. There is Mayank Agarwal, Shreyas, Gill, Prithvi have been doing well but we did not consider IPL.”

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