There was no place for Rishabh Pant or Ambati Rayudu in India’s 15-man World Cup squad, but KL Rahul, Dinesh Karthik, Vijay Shankar and Ravindra Jadeja got the selectors’ nod.
The meeting to pick the team took place in Mumbai on Monday and was attended by India captain Virat Kohli and the five-man selection panel led by MSK Prasad.
The squad: Virat Kohli (capt), Rohit Sharma (vice capt), Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Vijay Shankar, MS Dhoni (wk), Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami.
Who will be the No. 4?
For the past few months, both Kohli and Prasad had stressed that the World Cup squad was virtually “sorted” barring one spot: The No. 4 spot in the batting order. India have tried as many as 11 batsmen in that position since the 2017 Champions Trophy held in England.
Kohli wants a No. 4 batsman with both the skill and temperament to inject momentum into the innings, especially if India are setting a target. Ambati Rayudu, Pant, Vijay and Karthik emerged as the main contenders for the spot and the selectors have now shortlisted Vijay, Karthik, Kedar Jadhav and if need be Rahul to perform that important role.
“Under pressure, we have seen Dinesh Karthik finishing matches. That scored for him”
“After that Champions Trophy [in 2017] we have tried quite a few middle-order batsmen, which also includes Dinesh Karthik; we also tried Shreyas Iyer and Manish Pandey. We did give a few more chances to Rayudu, but what Vijay Shankar offers is three dimensions. Apart from his batting, he can bowl; if the conditions are suitable, 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 Vijay Shankar.
“We are looking at him at No. 4 to begin with. With Dinesh Karthik in and also Kedar Jadhav in, we have plenty of options at that No. 4 right now.”
India’s vice-captain Rohit Sharma had also put forward MS Dhoni’s name at No. 4, although he insisted it was a “personal” choice. Prasad said that they had looked at all options in the meeting and the unanimous decision was to stick with Shankar at No. 4, at least at the start of the World Cup.
“It (Dhoni at No. 4) was discussed,” Prasad said. “But I don’t think that was the point. The point discussed is that Vijay Shankar will bat at No. 4 and so can Kedar Jadhav and we also have a role for KL [Rahul] somewhere.” Prasad clarified that Rahul would be the third opener and will only be brought into the middle order if all other options failed.
Karthik v Pant
Why Karthik and not Pant was a question directed at Prasad more than once at the media briefing. And Prasad explained that though Pant was “almost there”, the selectors had more faith in Karthik handling the pressure of “crunch” matches.
“It’s definitely a case where we have debated at length and all of us in unison felt that either Rishabh Pant or DK [Karthik] will only come into the playing XI if Mahi [Dhoni] is injured. If it is a crucial match, like a quarter-final or a semi-final or like an important game, wicketkeeping also matters. So that’s the only reason that we went ahead with Dinesh Karthik. Otherwise Rishabh Pant was almost there.”
However, the biggest factor that worked against Pant was his struggle in finishing games for Delhi Capitals in IPL 2019; something that had also happened in final ODI against Australia in March, when he walked in to bat early with India chasing 273, but fell for a run-a-ball 16.
“That is exactly what we have discussed,” Prasad said. “Under pressure, we have seen Dinesh Karthik finishing matches. That’s one reason that scored for him.”
Despite his promise as a hard-hitting batsman, Pant’s wicketkeeping has not convinced everybody – including Prasad. “You can say that, you can say that, but the situation that was discussed among the selection committee is one of them will play in the XI provided MS [Dhoni] is injured. So under such situations, in crunch matches, who is the best guy who can handle the pressure? That is the reason that we went in favour of Dinesh Karthik. Otherwise Pant is full of talent. We have a lot of time for him. It is just unfortunate that he has missed out.”
Three spinners against fourth specialist fast bowler
The defending champions Australia announced their World Cup squad on the same day as India and they picked as many as five fast bowlers. India though have settled for only three – Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami.
It appears that the fourth seamer’s spot has gone to Jadeja, who has been included in case the wristspinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal suffer drops in form, which can happen in a tournament like the World Cup where each team plays nine games during the league phase alone.
“In the last one-and-a-half years, these two wristspinners who have won us games,” Prasad said. “But there might be a situation where you might require an additional allrounder in the playing XI, which Jadeja brings in. In the second part of the tournament, where the wickets may be a bit more dry, that is where we felt Jadeja will come in handy. That’s the reason why he’s been picked.”
Also, the selectors believe that with four allrounders in the squad – including Hardik Pandya and Vijay, who bowl seam up – India can often field an XI with as many as seven strong bowling options. Also, a BCCI press release said four additional quicks – Navdeep Saini, Avesh Khan, Khaleel Ahmed and Deepak Chahar – will be traveling to the UK “to assist the Indian team in their World Cup preparation” and they could well be on standby in case of any problems to the three frontline quicks.