Rishabh Pant has made his way back into India's ODI squad after getting selected for the home series against Australia. The Delhi boy had lost his place in the 50-over format after the home series against West Indies, in which he could garner scores of only 17 and 24 in the two innings he batted.
However, he followed it up with strong performances in the Test arena and India A. He scored a century in England and Australia each and impressed with his temperament. He scored 73 off 76 balls for India A against England Lions in the limited-overs internationals as well as an unbeaten 40 off 28 balls in the 2nd T20I against New Zealand in Auckland. Apart from these strong performances, his left-handedness is also one of the factors that have kept in contention for the World Cup. The team management is also searching for the best possible batting slot for him.
"We have included him (Pant) considering many factors that he is a left-hander," chief selector MSK Prasad said in a press conference.
"And we need to discuss with the team management also, which we have already done. Virat(Kohli) is also part of the meeting and we will try and figure out the best possible batting position, because being a left-hander, there is an advantage of playing left-right combination, we are discussing all that."
With wicketkeeper-batsman MS Dhoni in the squad, there was always going to be a one-on-one battle between Pant and Dinesh Karthik for the World Cup slot. The selectors dropped Karthik for Australia ODIs.
When asked whether the Australia matches were an audition for the World Cup and whoever does well gets the nod, Prasad said: "Definitely, because prior to this we had two series in New Zealand and Australia that's where Karthik was chosen, because Rishabh played four Test matches, so we wanted him to get a good break, he had a 20-day break, then he played a couple of ODIs against England lions where he did well, then we sent him to T20 matches, we want to give him a few ODIs before taking a final call."
Another player making a comeback was Punjab pacer Siddarth Kaul. While there were reports floating around that there could be a toss-up between Jaydev Unadkat and Khaleel Ahmed on the eve of the selection committee meeting, Kaul's name in ODI and T20I squads sprung a surprise.
"Sidharth Kaul has been doing very well in whatever opportunity we have given him for India and also at India A levels so he is a part of the mix right from the beginning and we are comfortable with him," Prasad said on the thought process behind Kaul's selection.
Kaul was the second highest wicket-taker(23 wickets) for Punjab in the 2018-19 Ranji Trophy and the highest wicket-taker (7 wickets) in the limited-overs series against New Zealand A earlier in December.
Khaleel missed out at Kaul's expense. He didn't have the best of times in the New Zealand T20Is where he went for 10.16 runs an over at an average of 30.50.
"Khaleel has been playing for the last two series and we have seen him and we would like to see Siddharth Kaul also," Prasad explained.
Another player that has been giving the team management and the selectors a selection headache is Vijay Shankar. The Tamil Nadu all-rounder has made a strong case for himself with his performances in pressure situations in New Zealand and is selected in both the squads. And if he continues the momentum against Australia, he might well be on the flight to England.
"Shankar's performance in recent series has really changed a bit of dynamics," Prasad said. "And he brings in that double impact to the side which is good enough, that is why we have included him and we will see how he performs in the next few matches.
Punjab leg spinner Mayank Markande who impressed in the Indian Premier League for Mumbai Indians, received his maiden call-up to the India T20I squad. It was a special day for the youngster as earlier in the day, he scalped a five-for to help India A beat England Lions in the second unofficial Test in Mysore. Prasad said they are looking at him as a back-up spinner to Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal.
"As a backup spinner, we are looking at him. We've been grooming him through the India A process and even today also he picked up a five-wicket haul. He's been doing well for some time so we want to have a look at him and he'll be the back-up spinner here."
Prasad said that they have short-listed about 18 players and are going to rotate among them.
On being asked why almost identical squads were named for the T20Is and ODIs, Prasad said, "Ideally it's good to keep the nucleus around. Because we are left with very less international cricket."
With the IPL preceding the World Cup, workload management has become crucial. When asked about how many matches the selectors are looking at in the IPL that the players should be rested so that they are fresh for the World Cup, Prasad said, "It is yet to be worked out and there is a discussion happening on that front and we will let you know at an appropriate time."
On being asked whether it would be even possible for BCCI to have a say with regards to selection in IPL considering the franchises have shelled out millions, BCCI acting secretary Amitabh Choudhary, who was also present at the press conference, said "If your question suggests that the franchises will be wary of resting players, it is an issue we will deal with considering its a World Cup year. And also considering the fact that all the franchises are Indian franchises, so the overall paramount interest of the entire country is doing well at the highest international forum.
"We have been in conversations with the franchises on all issues, concerning the game, cricket, as well as the interests of this country and there seems to be a convergence of views, if I may put it, in a larger kind of sense, without putting out the specifics."
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