No big surprise is likely when BCCI’s senior selection committee convenes on Monday to pick India’s 15-member squad for the World Cup that begins May 30 in the United Kingdom. Eleven players select themselves due to their experience and performance — Virat Kohli (captain), MS Dhoni (wicket-keeper), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Kedar Jadhav, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Hardik Pandya, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Six players — KL Rahul, Rishabh Pant, Dinesh Karthik, Ravindra Jadeja, Vijay Shankar, and Ambati Rayudu — are in contention for the remaining four spots.
Convention suggests back-up opener is a must at a World Cup. KL Rahul — who had mediocre outings when tested in the middle order — is the best batsman to come in should the opening combination fail. Statistics, however, back Dhawan and Sharma — with averages of 65.06 and 57.25 in England — to do well.
With 363 runs, Dhawan was India’s top-scorer during the 2013 Champions Trophy win in England. Two years ago, he aggregated 338 while Sharma totaled 304 in five matches even though India lost to Pakistan in the final. “The opening combination should not be tweaked. Other than the two, Rahul is another batsman who can open,” former India captain Sourav Ganguly was recently quoted as saying.
On Kohli, Dhoni, Dhawan, Sharma, and Jadhav rest India’s batting responsibility. Jadhav has emerged a dependable middle-order batsman who can also be trusted to squeeze in a few overs of off-spin. An integral part of the team since his Man-of-the-Series performance of 232 runs in the three-match ODI series against England in 2017 that India lost 1-2, Jadhav’s batting average hasn’t dipped below 40 in more than two years now.
There has been murmur on who should bat at No 4, mainly due to Ambati Rayudu’s lean patch — he scored one fifty in 10 outings since his century against West Indies in Mumbai last October — and a tussle between Dinesh Karthik and Rishabh Pant for the second wicket-keeper. “I will have Rayudu at No 4 and Pant ahead of Karthik. There is absolutely no debate about that. As a wicket-keeper, Pant has improved immensely,” said former wicket-keeper and national selector Kiran More. Former all-rounder and 1983 World Cup winner Madan Lal too said Pant’s selection is a no-brainer. “Pant has kept well in Australia. He is a match-winner and must go,” he said.
Bumrah, Shami, and Pandya are expected to do the bulk of the bowling though Kumar’s role will be equally significant considering the overhead conditions expected during the English summer. “It’s imperative Hardik bowls his entire quota of overs,” said Lal. “Bumrah and Shami are top of the line right now. Bhuvneshwar, however, has to step up a bit. India needs him more.”
ICC rules require pitches for events like World Cup to be standardized at all venues but Lal said the weather will be a factor. “You can’t standardize the conditions. It could be cloudy one day; there could be some dampness so you never know. Length will be very important there since you have to bowl in a certain corridor when that happens,” he said.