The national cricket selectors have found a way to fuel the debate. At a time when most players picked themselves, their decision to give an ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 berth in the Indian team to Dinesh Karthik ahead of Rishabh Pant will ensure that there is a great deal of conversation around their choice.
Make no mistake, Dinesh Karthik is a fine cricketer and his 91 appearances in one-day internationals in 15 years do not do his wicket-keeping or batting skills any justice. But having said that, it is more likely than not that he would not get to play a game in the World Cup, especially if Mahendra Singh Dhoni does not become unavailable before a match.
It is also a pretty good wager that he will not be up for selection for the next World Cup. It is precisely for this reason that India needed to invest in Rishabh Pant. If he is good enough to play Test cricket with his wicket-keeping skills, he should be a front-runner for selection in the shorter formats of the game.
Yes, the selectors have lost a great opportunity to give young Rishabh Pant the chance to experience the atmosphere at the World Cup. There were indications that the team management and the selectors would back Dinesh Karthik when the younger wicket-keeper was sent home for ‘rest’ after India won the Test series in Australia. It is apparent that the selectors have ceded ground to the captain in going with Dinesh Karthik rather than Rishabh Pant.
There are a couple of areas that India will hope will not bug the team during the campaign. The relative inexperience in the middle-order is apparent. If openers Rohit Sharma (205 matches) and Shikhar Dhawan (128), skipper Virat Kohli (227) and Mahendra Singh Dhoni (338) boast of having nearly 900 ODI caps among them, batsmen like Vijay Shankar (9 matches), KL Rahul (14), Hardik Pandya (45) and Kedar Jadhav (59) will be considered inexperienced.
India will have to come up with some smart thinking to ensure that the less experienced batsmen do not face a tricky situation. One of the best ways to do that would be to have skipper Virat Kohli drop down to No 4 and let KL Rahul bat at one-drop. Vijay Shankar could be sandwiched between Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Hardik Pandya to be able to bat alongside the more experienced hands.
The other facet that is quite stark is that the team has just three specialist fast-medium bowlers in Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, and Jasprit Bumrah. Hardik Pandya has given the team management and the selectors confidence that he can deliver 10 overs of quality and pick up wickets as well. They must be backed to deal with the workloads during the World Cup.
India had Dhawal Kulkarni travelling as an extra paceman in Australia and New Zealand the last time, and could do something similar to make sure that the main trio does not wear itself thin by bowling long spells in the nets, too. In any case, India will have to keep a couple of fast-medium bowlers in a state of readiness either at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru or in England.
It is heartening to see the return of Mohammed Shami and Ravindra Jadeja to the squad after both were left in the wilderness (for various reasons) in the three years after the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. They forced themselves in the reckoning with good performances in the past season.
Shami was out with injuries and other issues but came back strongly earlier this season with performances against the West Indies at home and in Australia and New Zealand. He has looked admirably fit and hungry, pleasing skipper Virat Kohli no end with his work ethic in shouldering the burden along with Bhuvneshwar Kumar when Jasprit Bumrah was given a break from cricket.
Jadeja was out of favour after he was involved in a mix-up with Hardik Pandya in the ICC Champions Trophy final against Pakistan in June 2017 but came back after a year when wrist spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal grabbed the chances that came their way. His fielding has not lost any of its edge and if he can show greater resolve with the bat, the team will benefit.
The team has got the balance that can make it a force to reckon with in the World Cup. It is a question of picking the best XI for each game and for each of the chosen men to deliver his best on each given day. The team’s hunger and sense of purpose have been quite evident in the past couple of years. It just needs to keep doing the basics right and avoid collective failure.
The bowling unit has performed pretty consistently. Though it missed a left-arm paceman, it has enough variety to be able to take on the best sides in the World Cup. The bowlers will be hoping that all the batsmen together do not choose any of the World Cup games to have an off day. They deserve the batsmen to be expressing themselves freely.
And yes, Mahendra Singh Dhoni. As someone who has led India to title glory and a semi-final spot in 2011 and 2015, and who was not expected to last the rigours for so long, he now has the chance to sign off his glittering career with the kind of batting that he will be remembered for. He has shown sparks that he can unwind the magic. If he does that, the debate that the selectors have fueled today will be long forgotten.