The surest sign that India’s countdown for cricket’s World Cup in England next summer has commenced is the composition of the team for the first two one-day internationals against the West Indies.
The choice of players is almost an endorsement that there will be little experimentation between now and the mega event; with only Rishabh Pant and Khaleel Ahmed being relatively new entrants.
The selectors have thus indicated that they will go with the experienced cricketers and thereby announced a largely predictable 14-member team.
India play a total of 18 ODIs before the World Cup and hence any experimentation to induct new faces ought to have begun now against a substantially weak West Indies team.
But the selectors, who obviously must have consulted team management, have decided that their best prospects lay with battle-hardened veterans like MS Dhoni and Shikhar Dhawan, even as they have provided berths for the explosive Pant and promising paceman Khaleel Ahmed.
It is almost certain that Dhoni would be the first-choice wicket-keeper for the World Cup even as Pant’s batting talent gets its share of attention. He could be used as a pinch-hitter or down the order when a lot of acceleration is needed to sustain momentum. It is evident that his hard-hitting batting style has swayed selectors and this could well mean that Dinesh Karthik’s international career has reached the end of the road.
The combative Ambati Rayudu and athletic Manish Pandey are just the sort of batsmen India would need to bat around skipper Virat Kohli, especially if the openers fall early. Both are fleet-footed and hence could be ideal partners for Kohli who insists on running aggressively at the start of his innings. Either one of them could be the ideal number four batsman, with tough competition expected to come from KL Rahul.
Rayudu and Pandey are both busy batsmen and capable of taking the attack to the opposition. If Dhoni and Pant can forge a good understanding and bat well, India would be well served for the number 5 and 6 spots also.
This would ensure a batting line-up rich in experience: Sharma, Dhawan, Kohli, Rayudu/Pandey, Dhoni, Pant and Ravindra Jadeja. They have the credentials to take on any challenge that the West Indies might throw at them.
Additionally, India’s selectors must be hoping that the injured Hardik Pandya gets into the thick of the action as soon as possible. He brings a certain amount of balance and dynamism to the team, especially in white-ball cricket where his ball-striking ability along with athletic fielding and decent fast bowling make him a useful all-rounder.
He and the other injured player Kedar Jadav give the team options that could come in handy at critical junctures.
While the batting has been built around senior, experienced cricketers, the selectors have been a bit more adventurous with bowlers. They have roped in Mohammed Shami, who has hardly been successful in white-ball cricket, to bring in experience in the pace department.
Otherwise, they have banked on the inexperienced Khaleel Ahmed and Shardul Thakur with the hope that they could develop quickly enough to feature in far more competitive matches.
Ahmed, the tall left-arm fast bowler brings variety to the attack. The team is desperately in need for a bowler of his wares as it would add another dimension to the pace attack. Ahmed has the potential. It is just a question of how quickly he grasps lessons that could help make him a force to reckon with.
The selectors have rightly opted to rest India’s two best fast bowlers, Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. This provides an excellent opportunity for Shami, Khaleel, and Thakur to step up and present their ODI credentials. At least two of the trio are expected to be in the playing eleven. Significantly, there are a number of other fast bowlers, such as Umesh Yadav, Siddarth Kaul, Siraj Ahmed and Deepak Chahar lurking around and they should serve as the impetus for Khaleel and Thakur to quickly make a mark and retain their spots in the team.
India have three seasoned spinners in Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, and Jadeja and this trio is tailormade for Indian pitches. They could be the force that determines how the opposition fares in the crucial 10-40-over phase.
The reliance on so many experienced cricketers in both batting and bowling has indicated that the team could constantly rotate with a pool of 20-odd players over the next few months. Thus, when the players take the field against West Indies for the ODIs, they might well be aware that they need to stay in the present so as to reap the benefits in future.