India will be the team to beat in the ICC World Cup of 2019. The prestigious event will be hosted by England and Wales from May 30 to July 14 next year, for the fifth time.
Virat Kohli’s men have earned the number one ranking in one-day internationals (ODIs) with some convincing series wins in the last couple of years, and by sheer dint of hard work. The recent trouncing of the Proteas, in South Africa, was only the icing on the cake.
The question is, with the World Cup matches only 15 months away, which players have booked their place in the Indian squad … and who haven’t?
MSK Prasad, the chief of selectors had announced before the ODI series in South Africa that a final pool of players for the World Cup would be shortlisted on the tour of England, this July-September. Hopefully, though, the selectors will have had an inkling of who is going to make it to the World Cup squad, bar the surprises, after the South African tour.
Over the 2018-19 cricket season, in a run up to the World Cup, the Indians will play around 30 ODIs. Besides five Tests and three T20 matches, India will play three ODIs on their tour of England this summer. These matches will be a dress rehearsal of sorts for the big event.
Furthermore, they get to play the Asia Cup in September, where they shall be able to match their prowess against good ODI teams like Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and others. Playing matches in the tournament format, rather than on a bilateral or tri-series basis, will help the team prepare mentally, physically and strategically for the big event.
The Asia Cup will be followed by five ODIs against the itinerant West Indies in October-November and three ODIs against Australia, Down Under, as we bid 2018 goodbye.
In the New Year, India plays five ODIs against the New Zealanders, in New Zealand, five ODIs against Australia, in India and finally, three ODIs against the Zimbabweans, before the team heads to England, for the World Cup, in May 2019.
Thirty ODIs, along with a dozen Test matches and a handful of T20 matches will make it a busy season for Indian players, especially for those who play in all three formats. Therefore, Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah and a few others shall have to pace themselves to be in peak form at the World Cup.
The Indian selectors, the team management and support staff have a job at hand. They shall not only have to keep the players fit and motivated, but also prevent them from getting over-worked and injured or jaded, with strategic changes in the playing eleven through the next 15 months.
That said, let’s take a look at what India’s first 11 may look like in the World Cup of 2019:
Whether we like it or not, Kohli has been the key to most of India’s ODI wins in recent times. More often than not, when he scores big, India wins easily. Therefore, he shall have to be at his peak, in England, in June-July 2019.
Unless things change drastically, Dhawan and Rohit Sharma will open the innings in World Cup matches. K.L. Rahul, the third opener should be able to work on his form and make a comeback by the time the squad is selected. He is too talented a batsman to be kept out and can surely back up as a second ‘keeper too.
With Kohli coming in at number three, the number four and five slots in the batting order are still open. This, probably, is the weak link in an otherwise strong Indian batting line up. It gives the opposition the chance to get back into the game, as has so often happened in the recent past.
At the moment, there are four contenders for these slots in Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, Ajinkya Rahane and Shreyas Iyer. They have all been in and out of the team and therefore, the selectors will have to find a couple of reliable players, on form, to fill up these spaces.
In at number six will be MS Dhoni, followed by the feisty all-rounder Hardik Pandya. Despite reservations expressed by some pundits, Dhoni walks into the team not only as the best wicket-keeper in the world in limited overs cricket, but also as somebody who has years and years of experience at the international level. Though his competence as a ‘finisher’ may have diminished with age, he is still India’s best bet in the lower middle order.
Pandya has flattered to deceive too often. Dubbed the next Kapil Dev by some ‘experts’, perhaps prematurely, the fact remains that he has a long way to go before he can achieve that legendary status. Recently, Kapil Dev expressed disappointment at Pandya’s attitude and the silly mistakes that he commits from time to time. Pandya will, therefore, have to pull up his socks if he wants to make that slot his own.
Both Axar Patel and Ravindra Jadeja could give Pandya a run for his money. Both of them are capable of big hits, are frugal with runs - while bowling, and are brilliant fielders too.
The last four places in the lineup should be taken by Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Shardul Thakur, Yuzvendra Chahal and Jasprit Bumrah. I would personally like Kuldeep Yadav to replace Chahal because of his variations and Mohammad Shami would, of course, play if Thakur fails to measure up.
With the IPL coming up and a complete domestic season of cricket to be played before the World Cup of 2019, there will surely be some surprise performers who will contend for a place in the World Cup squad. Prithvi Shaw, Shubman Gill, Manjot Kalra and Kamlesh Nagarkoti, from the India Under 19 squad, will be watched and probably be given a break in international matches.
Washington Sundar, Mayank Agarwal, Rishabh Pant and quite a few others could also do well enough, in a crowded season, to be considered for a place in the squad.
After India plays a couple of T20s against Ireland, this June and then takes on Afghanistan in its historic, first ever Test match, it’s going to be ‘Mission World Cup’ for India. The trips to England, Australia and New Zealand, besides the series against the West Indies, the Australians and the Zimbabweans at home, in the coming months, will help the Indian team regroup and go for the jugular in the World Cup.
Honestly, I am expecting a few fresh, unknown faces in the World Cup squad, if not in the playing 11, in May 2019. Let’s wait and see.
The author is a caricaturist and sportswriter. A former fast bowler and coach, he is now a sought after mental toughness trainer.