India is still a few internationals away from the 2019 World Cup but the time to zero down on their final 15 is nearly up. And the big question is whether they have players ready for most of their slots or they might have to wait till the eleventh hour to decide on them.
Worse still, has Team India dig themselves a big hole with their frequent experimentation, lackadaisical selections and a lack of firmness around their decision-making.
The question on everyone’s lips is who will make the 15-man India squad for the World Cup. A few of them are certainties – last minute injuries aside – but there are others who will be waiting on the selectors to decide their fate.
Openers Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma, captain Virat Kohli, spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal and seamers Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar would be the first seven names that would get pencilled in.
With Kohli having put his faith in Ambati Rayudu as the team’s number four batsman and him having delivered in the Windies series, it seems like he would be the eighth to get in. And Hardik Pandya’s absence has caused India all sorts of balance issues, making him number nine if fit.
Then there’s a question around KL Rahul. He was the toast of the nation after the IPL, almost a certainty in all three formats just behind the captain himself and now, he looks like he has lost his place from all three formats as well. Still, he is the stand-in opener and might even have it in him to double up as the number four batsman – so he is one who should make the squad as well. That’s number 10.
Next up, Kedar Jadhav. Who is probably more important than both Rayudu and Rahul because he is the only batsman in that list of batsmen who can bowl. Sure, Kohli can do a bit and Rohit too can, but they aren’t your go-to part-timers by any stretch. Jadhav is. And is a finisher with the bat, having won teams matches or got them close.
The issue? His fitness. Twice now he has busted his hamstring this year and the selectors will be apprehensive of getting him in the squad. Still, on the basis of his cricket alone, he makes the squad, making it 11 players in the squad.
Who are the rest?
I haven’t named the keeper yet because ideally, on the basis of form alone, MS Dhoni should have been dropped. He averages 25 in ODIs this year with a highest score of 42 and there’s a reserve keeper in Rishabh Pant who is waiting, and raring to go.
The selectors have already taken a huge call with respect to Dhoni in the T20Is by axing him from two series but that could, in fact, be an indicator they want him to focus on ODIs. And Dhoni’s keeping and leading from behind the stumps makes him an indispensable asset for Kohli.
If Dhoni doesn’t get dropped and Pant gets called up as a pure batsman, as has been the case in the Windies series, that’s made it 13 players – with Pant not just doubling up as the keeper but also a back-up middle-order batsman.
The final two spots will then need to go to two seamers given the English conditions but that also leaves India short of a spinner. As of now, there’s not much to choose between Mohammad Shami, Umesh Yadav and left-arm seamer Khaleel Ahmed.
And if a third spinner has to come in, it would be one of Ravindra Jadeja or Krunal Pandya.
What do the selectors do? Bring in two seamers and say no to the third spinner? Or just have four seamers in the squad and get in an all-rounder like Jadeja or Krunal in the line-up?
There’s a third option in that between Rahul and Pant they can drop one batsman and accommodate an extra bowler. Tough call ahead. The ODIs against Australia and New Zealand should give a clearer picture.