The cycle of World Cup 2019 is over. The cycle of next milestone is about to begin. The cycle of cricket, however, never stops as the squad for India's tour of West Indies which begins on 3 August was announced on Sunday.
The tour comprises three-match T20I, ODI and two-match Test series. The previous cycle of World Cup 2019 witnessed Indian selectors undertake numerous experiments to consolidate the best possible unit for the ICC mega event. Yet, the cracks of middle-order could only be papered and the coating came off in the semi-final against New Zealand. However, all of that is in the past now. What India should not leave in the past is the learning from all the hits and misses. MSK Prasad and Co have a clean slate in front of them and the first step to write a new chapter was taken on Sunday.
India look to build a team for future. At the same time, the immediate milestone for Team India to conquer is the next year's ICC T20 World Cup. The bonus prize is another T20 World Cup which will take place in 2021. Selectors have shown 'intent' with the team they picked for the T20I series which also includes quite a lot of surprises.
England showed the value of long term planning and proper execution of ideas with the historic World Cup triumph. The template could be different, but the approach cannot be neglected by India.
Fresh faces mark the search for T20I glory
The twenty20 squad witnessed the most amount of churning and that's quite obvious. India have been at the top of world cricket for long but the trophies have been missing. The last ICC trophy for India was the 2013 Champions Trophy and Virat Kohli would be desperate to load his reign with silverware. When Prasad emerged out of the meeting with Kohli, he had quite a few new names to utter as he revealed the shortest format squad.
Wrist-spinner Rahul Chahar and pacer Navdeep Saini received their maiden call-up to the side while rookie Deepak Chahar and Washington Sundar have been recalled. On the other hand, Dinesh Karthik, Siddarth Kaul, Umesh Yadav are amongst the few names to be dropped from the squad that last played T2oIs. The middle-order has also been reinvented.
One of the interesting things to notice is the exclusion of Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav. Both the wrist-spinners are part of the ODI setup though. The plan is crystal clear. With very little time left, selectors are eager to try out the domestic and IPL stars before finalising the World Cup squad. A good run of 10-15 games and an even better return of investment is what they would be expecting.
Another middle-order experiment begins
India's middle-order muddle is proving to be a migraine for the current lot of selectors. After audition a dozen of candidates for the No 4 spot, Men in Blue settled for inexperienced Rishabh Pant during the later stages of World Cup. The problem was compounded by the struggle of other actors in the middle-order. This was always going to be a high priority task for selectors and first moves have already been made.
"We had certain plans till the World Cup but post World Cup we need to give opportunities to those youngsters who will go onto play for long," said Prasad when asked about Dinesh Karthik's exclusion from the squads.
The same could apply on others as well. India's middle-order for now comprises of KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey and Rishabh Pant. The same quartet has been picked for both ODI and T20I series while MS Dhoni, Vijay Shankar and Karthik have gone missing. Shankar is still injured as informed by the chief selector and Dhoni is unavailable. But with everyone available as well, the current squad would not have been a surprise.
Rahul is an established name. Pant is exciting. Iyer and Pandey have been rewarded for brilliant India A performances. Iyer has also been scoring a bucket load of runs in domestic cricket while Pandey,a matured product, is still younger than Indian batting seniors. A bit of luck and consistency is what India desire. We are sure Prasad has his fingers crossed.
One who has survived all the chopping and changing is Kedar Jadhav. The 34-year-old finds a place in the ODI side but it would be a surprise if he still features in selector's long-term plan. Jadhav seems like a short-term insurance plan for India. With middle-order being the soft underbelly and batsmen making re-entry, Jadhav could be the messiah for crisis. What could have also helped his case would be the full tour rest for all-rounder Hardik Pandya. Jadhav with his slingy offies could give India the sixth bowling option.
Rishabh Pant 'first choice' over MS Dhoni
The speculations over MS Dhoni's retirement keeps mounting up. He has currently taken a self-imposed break from international assignments but has refused to walk into the sunset. However, it's common knowledge that he won't be around for forever. Selectors are wise enough to know that. And Prasad dropped enough hints during the squad briefing over how Pant could already become India's No 1 wicket-keeper across all formats.
“He’s (Dhoni) unavailable for this series but we had certain road maps and plans till World Cup. Subsequently, we’ve laid down a few more plans and thought of giving as many opportunities to Pant and to see he is groomed. This is our plan right now,” Prasad said during the selection media briefing.
Apart from suggesting that India are looking to give 'as many opportunities' to Pant, Dhoni's struggle with bat means the youngster moving a step ahead of the veteran in scheme of things shouldn't come as a surprise.
No rest for skipper Virat Kohli
Skipper Kohli was expected to take rest during the T20I and ODI series to manage the workload. But Kohli and selectors have decided to surprise the punters. The reason behind Kohli's decision to not take rest but continue despite a long season waiting to unfold could be down to his passion, insatiable hunger or drive but above all it could also be a decision to oversee the transition in the limited-overs setup for India.
Kohli as a captain has an envious record till we reach the trophy cabinet. The failures in Champions Trophy and World Cup surely would have pinched the Delhi lad at the core of his heart. He's not ready to leave anything to chance.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar bites the dust in Tests
The Test squad has witnessed minimum flirtation. Making drastic changes would be playing with fire as this team has been doing well. Not to forget, the Test championship is beginning and West Indies beat England at home just a few months back. Taking West Indies or the series lightly will be foolish. Wriddhiman Saha is back and Prasad had a good justification that established players will be given opportunities on return from injuries. Murali Vijay has been dropped and this could be the end of the road for him but at the same time Rahul has been retained despite flopping consistently in Australia. The opener has age and runs in ODIs to back him. And that probably convinced selectors. Jasprit Bumrah, who has been rested for limited-overs leg makes a return in the 'real' cricket format.
But the most striking change is the exclusion of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and inclusion of Umesh Yadav. Considering the significance of the series and the full-strength squad of India, Bhuvneshwar's exclusion only points out in one direction — he is not the choice for selectors for now. In any case, Bumrah, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami are ahead of Bhuvneshwar in the pecking order and the jury is not happy with Bhuvneshwar as the fourth choice pacer. Hence the change. The replacement Yadav suggests, the need is of pace, bounce and wicket-to-wicket bowling.
Rohit Sharma is also part of the Test squad and we don't want to rule out the possibility of him opening at some point in the series, especially considering there are only two openers in the squad; Rahul and Mayank Agarwal.
To sum it up, the India selectors have mixed caution and aggression. They have tried to be bold and yet they have retained experience to mix with the exuberance of youth. There's no doubt Prasad and Co have tried to maintain some continuity but have thrown few names in it as well with an eye on future goals.