India vs Sri Lanka: Prithvi or Padikkal? Chahal or Chahar? A look at selection dilemmas plaguing Rahul Dravid and Co

The Indian squad in Sri Lanka is brimming with talent and the team management faces a major selection dilemma as they head into the ODI series.

India vs Sri Lanka: Prithvi or Padikkal? Chahal or Chahar? A look at selection dilemmas plaguing Rahul Dravid and Co

Prithvi Shaw in action in IPL 2021. SportzPics

In a rare occurrence, two different Indian teams will be touring two different countries at the same time. One Indian team with the seniors is preparing for the Test series against England while one team, mostly filled with newcomers and youngsters, will be battling it out for the ODI and T20I series in Sri Lanka.

Senior pro Shikhar Dhawan will be leading the side in Sri Lanka while Rahul Dravid, who is the head of the National Cricket Academy, will take over the coaching duties.

Though most of the first-team players and seniors will be missing from the side which will take on the Sri Lankans, Dravid and Co are spoilt for choices and it says a lot about India's talent reserves.

There are five players who have received their maiden national call-ups — Ruturaj Gaikwad, Devdutt Padikkal, K Gowtham, Chetan Sakariya and Nitish Rana. It's an exciting time for these youngsters featuring in an away tour under the tutelage of Dravid and learning from the experienced Dhawan and Bhuvneshwar Kumar.

Dravid though has made it clear that the main objective will be to win the series and the team will be selected accordingly. But the squad is brimming with talent and the team management does face a selection dilemma as they head into the ODI series.

The opening conundrum

Just a passing glimpse at the squad will give you an idea of the number of top-order batsmen in the line-up, namely Shikhar Dhawan, Prithvi Shaw, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Ishan Kishan, Nitish Rana, Suryakumar Yadav.

In all probability Dhawan will open the batting, but who will partner him at the other end?

Gaikwad, Rana, Kishan have all opened the batting at some point in their careers. They have also impressed in the IPL in the last couple of years.

Ruturaj Gaikwad has been a consistent performer in the List A circuit and averages 47.87 from 59 matches. He was the shining light amid the gloom in Chennai Super Kings' 2020 IPL campaign, averaging 51 from six matches. He impressed in patches in the 2021 IPL as well before the pandemic forced the suspension of the league mid-way.

Nitish Rana has opened the batting for Kolkata Knight Riders and batted at No 3 and in the middle order as well. He hasn't been that consistent in the IPL though, averaging 25.14 in the 2020 IPL and 28.71 in the 2021 edition. However, he had a very good 2020-21 Vijay Hazare Trophy, finishing as the fifth-highest run-getter (398 runs from seven innings) at an average of 66.33 with two fifty-plus scores and a century.

Ishan Kishan too has batted at different positions like No 3, in the middle order and as an opener as well. More on him later.

However, it might come down to Shaw vs Padikkal.

Prithvi Shaw in action in IPL 2021. SportzPics

Prithvi Shaw in action in IPL 2021. SportzPics

Shaw bounced back strongly from his poor performances in Australia with a record-breaking 2020-21 Vijay Hazare Trophy where he scored 827 runs from eight innings at a staggering average of 165.40 and strike rate of 138.29. In the process, he set the record of scoring the most runs in a single edition in the history of the tournament.

He also scored a double century in the tournament. After a lacklustre IPL 2020 and getting dropped after the first Test against Australia in Adelaide, it was a resounding reply from the youngster. He carried forward that confidence in IPL 2021 with three fifty-plus scores and an average of 38.50 from eight matches with a strike rate of 166.48.

“He will be able to capitalise on the performance he gained in Vijay Hazare Trophy," Former India cricketer Irfan Pathan said on the Star Sports show Game Plan. "So, what he did, he went out to domestic cricket after his poor run last year in the IPL. He scored tons of runs in domestic cricket and then he tried to replicate the same in the IPL – he was able to do it consistently as well. The way he did it – with the right technique – he did an adjustment to the technique. His bat is coming close to his body – which is fantastic – he is very, very still, that helps, and if he is scoring in domestic cricket then he can score in international cricket, as well. So, that IPL performance confidence will definitely boost his performance in Sri Lanka, as well.”

Devdutt Padikkal, on the other hand, has been riding the crest of a wave in his career. His IPL performances have propelled him into the limelight. He scored his maiden century against Rajasthan Royals in IPL 2021. He was RCB's highest run-getter with 473 runs from 15 matches in the 2020 IPL.

RCB captain Kohli showered high praise on Padikkal after that century against RR saying that he is a "great talent, great one to look forward to in the future."

What might tilt the balance in Shaw's future is the fact that with Dhawan opening, he brings that left-right combination into play. Though he hasn't been an integral part of white-ball cricket for India, there is a good chance he might get the nod which might help him revive his India career.

Who bats at No 3?

Again there are multiple options for India.

Suryakumar Yadav has finally broken open the selection door open in style after a long wait. He started off in a blistering fashion in the home series against England, with a 31-ball 57 in Ahmedabad in his debut international innings. He's been a consistent run-getter in the domestic arena for Mumbai and for Mumbai Indians in the IPL for the last few years. His ability to change gears at will and his temperament have stood out. And he is one of the best players of spin. All this makes him an enticing prospect for the middle overs and a complete package in the larger scheme of things.

Suryakumar Yadav made 57 off 31 on his batting debut for India and also clinched the Player of the Match award. Images: Sportzpics for BCCI

Suryakumar Yadav made 57 off 31 on his batting debut for India and also clinched the Player of the Match award. Images: Sportzpics for BCCI

There is Manish Pandey as well who is looking to set his stop-start career in motion and can be considered as an option at No 3. He's had some success at No 3 playing for Sunrisers Hyderabad in the IPL. He's scored the most runs in that position in IPL — 1713, and possesses his best average there (where he has batted 15 or more innings in one position) — 32.9.

Then there is Nitish Rana as well as Kishan who can slot into that role.

A lot will depend on the team combination. If India decide to go in with an extra batter, then Suryakumar might slot into the No 4 position with Pandey taking the No 5 and either Rana or Kishan slotting in at 3. If India opt for an extra all-rounder then Suryakumar and Pandey may juggle between 3 and four.

The wicket-keeper battle

Sanju Samson and Kishan are both vying to get into that T20 World Cup squad and this Sri Lankan tour will be important for them. Kishan is one name that has been on the periphery for the last few years but due to inconsistencies, he wasn't able to unlock the selection door. However, after a 500-run season (516 runs) in the IPL 2020 for Mumbai Indians, he finally got a chance to don the national colours.

The Jharkhand batsman started off in style with a 32-ball 56 as an opener on his T20I debut against England. However, he fizzled out a bit after that with scores of 4 (against England), 28, 1, 12, 26 and 6 in the IPL 2021. Nonetheless, he's shown that he has a spark in him and that he can adapt to different batting positions with important contributions in the middle order as well for Mumbai Indians.

Ishan Kishan (WK)of India celebrates after scoring a fifty during the 2nd T20 International between India and England held at the Narendra Modi Stadium, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India on the 14th March 2021 Photo by Saikat Das / Sportzpics for BCCI

Ishan Kishan in action against England on his debut. Sportzpics

In, out, in, out. Samson's career has been constantly oscillating between the two. He too had been on the fringes for a long time. But finally, when he got a chance, he failed to live up to the expectations. Those inconsistencies have hurt him, seeing as he's not made significant contributions in the opportunities he's been presented with. In the seven T20Is he's played for India, he's averaged just 11.85 with a high score of 23. Consider this, he made his India debut on the Zimbabwe tour way back in 2015 and is still on the fringes.

He did have a good time in IPL 2021, starting off with a century — 119 against Punjab Kings. And after a string of low scores (4,1,21), he got back his mojo and played with maturity and responsibility to rack up scores of 42 not out, 42 and 48. He will however have to do much more on this Sri Lanka tour and in the remainder of the IPL to stay in the reckoning for the T20 World Cup.

There is not much to differentiate between the two in terms of selection. Both possess flair and flamboyance and are looking to prove themselves. It's a crucial tour though. More the chances, the more the game time, the better the prospects. With Rishabh Pant being the favourite to take up the glovework for the T20 World Cup, and the presence of Rahul who can also keep, Kishan and Samson will need to up their batting game to throw their hats into the ring as pure batsmen.

The spin debate

Spin generally plays a vital role on the slow and flat pitches of Sri Lanka. India have included six spinners in their line-up (if you include the all-rounders as well) — Yuzvendra Chahal, Rahul Chahar, Kuldeep Yadav, Varun Chakravarthy, Krunal Pandya and K Gowtham. There is a battle within the battle here, with almost everyone vying for the T20 World Cup berth.

Kuldeep is looking to resurrect his career after a long period of struggle. Even Chahal who was once India's premier spinner has been struggling of late and his flight ticket for T20 WC might not yet be guaranteed. Rahul Chahar has been continuously climbing up the ladder with his performances in the IPL — becoming a vital cog for MI — and domestic cricket and staking his claim to a spot in the Indian side.

File image of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal. Reuters

File image of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal. Reuters

Varun Chakravarthy, who has been impressing in the IPL, has been in the scheme of things of the selectors but his fitness has been a major obstacle. He keeps getting included in squads but then gets left out due to injury or lack of fitness. He's been a vital part of the KKR setup and would look to prove his fitness if he gets a chance. He is an attacking option for India while Krunal is more of a holding option rather than a wicket-taking one.

Off-spinning all-rounder K Gowtham made headlines when was bought by CSK for 9.5 crores in IPL 2021 auction, becoming the most expensive uncapped player in IPL history. But he didn't play a single game. He has a decent List A record with 70 wickets from 47 matches and an economy rate of 4.73. He can be handy with the bat as well providing those late surges down the order. He has a List A strike rate of 141.26 and a T20 strike rate of 159.24.

Which spinners play will again depend on the team combination. Assuming that India will go in with two pacers, they might look to play two proper spinners and one spinning all-rounder. Hardik Pandya has been bowling in the nets but it's not clear how much exertion his body can handle and whether he can bowl 10 overs every match. That's why a second all-rounder becomes crucial, which also gives them a sixth bowling option. Kuldeep gives them the left-arm wrist spin dimension, while Yuzvendra Chahal brings the experience. There are chances we might see the 'KulCha' reunion which might, in turn, catalyse their individual careers.

“I would like to see them (Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal) play in three ODIs," Laxman said in the Star Sports show Game Plan. "I think in ODIs, each bowler will get to play 10 overs. So, the more overs they bowl, the more success they have, they will get back the confidence – especially Kuldeep Yadav."

It's difficult to see three wrist spinners get into the side, so only one of Chahar or Chahal might get a place in the eleven. Krunal might clinch that second all-rounder's spot given the start to his ODI career where he scored a 31-ball 58 on debut and the fact that he brings much more assurance and stability with the bat in the lower-order and can be used for choking the scoring in the middle overs with two attacking spinners.

Predicted XI: Shikhar Dhawan, Prithvi Shaw, Suryakumar Yadav, Manish Pandey, Sanju Samson, Hardik Pandya, Krunal Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Deepak Chahar, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal.

Updated Date: July 16, 2021 10:36:26 IST

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