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India picks its best to bring World Cup home

MSK Prasad-led selection panel should get a pat on the back for pulling off a difficult job with aplomb, giving captain Kohli the best 15 to launch India’s campaign for a third World Cup

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The vicissitudes of selection, when the sport is cricket, the stage is the World Cup and the country is India, are often both exacerbated and exaggerated because almost every Indian following the sport is a super selector. MSK Prasad and his selection panel colleagues can allow themselves a pat on the back for having pulled off a difficult job with aplomb, giving captain Virat Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri the best 15 to launch India’s campaign for a third world cup.

 India picks its best to bring World Cup home

India announced their 15-member squad for the World Cup on April 15 April. AP/ File

The only contentious choice is that of Dinesh Karthik as the reserve wicketkeeper-batsman behind Mahendra Singh Dhoni and ahead of the explosive Rishabh Pant, whose game appears perfectly tailored for the limited-overs game. For all his exploits in red-ball cricket, Pant hasn’t quite aced 50-over play, where his domestic as well as international record is less than overwhelming. The 21-year-old has played just five One-Day Internationals, averaging 23.25. More telling is his record at home. In 41 List ‘A’ matches, Pant averages just 29.73 at a strike-rate of 104.87.

As the back-up stumper, Pant will have the chance to soak in the atmosphere, more than anything else. The World Cup is definitely not the place for it.

Karthik, a 15-year veteran in international cricket, is a proven performer who can easily slip into the role of a finisher when required. Karthik is the finished product; Pant a work in progress. Once they decided that a second wicketkeeper was a must, Prasad’s panel should have had a straightforward task choosing between the two.

Pant will have every reason to feel aggrieved, but if there is someone who feels the same with greater justification, it has to be Ambati Rayudu.

As recently as October, Kohli said Rayudu had ended India’s quest for the pivotal, if irksome, No. 4 slot. Three bad outings at home against Australia in March seem to have undone the string of scores Rayudu posted in the preceding six months. The beneficiary is Vijay Shankar, a top-order batsman who can also bowl a few handy overs--an increasingly rare commodity in Indian cricket.

Vijay is perhaps the most underwhelming of India’s number fours at World Cups in the last few editions. In fact, he has never batted at that position in international cricket. But there are enough signs that he has what it takes to shape the course of the innings.

The 28-year-old is technically adept and can tackle the moving ball. He is a nudger and pusher who can also strike the ball clean and long. He won’t necessarily be a game-changer, but his reassuring presence will allow others to embrace that status. In a team of superstars and natural aggressors, Vijay’s calming influence will express itself far quicker than people might foresee.

Kohli’s 15-man squad has the perfect balance – six specialist batsmen, two more than competent wicketkeeper-batsmen, three crafty pacers, two wrist-spinners and two all-rounders. Hardik Pandya’s presence means there is no need for a fourth out-and-out quick, while Ravindra Jadeja can provide the run-denying left-arm spinning option if Kuldeep Yadav or Yuzvendra Chahal fail to come good.

KL Rahul’s inclusion as the extra batting choice stems from his adaptability. While he has been penciled in as the third opener behind Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, Rahul has shown in Twenty20 Internationals that he can make centuries while batting at Nos. 3 and 4. The World Cup call-up is a reward for his recent form. It’s more than likely that Rahul will break into the Playing XI midway through the competition and provide the X factor that the more volatile Pant was expected to offer.

Kohli’s 15-man squad has the perfect balance — six specialist batsmen, two more than competent wicketkeeper-batsmen, three crafty pacers, two wrist-spinners and two all-rounders. Hardik Pandya’s presence means there is no need for a fourth out-and-out quick, while Ravindra Jadeja can provide the run-denying left-arm spinning option if Kuldeep Yadav or Yuzvendra Chahal
fail to come good.

Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar make for a potent pace attack as any at the World Cup. At the slightest hint of assistance, they will be all over the opposition and are gifted enough to make a mark even on the flattest of pitches. Their incisiveness with the new ball and towards the death will be as crucial to India’s fortunes as the potency of the spinners in the middle overs, especially given that the format pits all opponents against each other and where there is no such thing as a ‘safe’ match.

The one department that could hurt India is fielding. Kohli, Jadeja, Rahul and Pandya are truly brilliant fielders. Vijay flirts with excellence, but the rest fall under the ‘safe’ category. Dhoni has made winning a habit with Chennai Super Kings with less impressive fielding resources because he doesn’t expect the world of his fielders.

Kohli must learn from his predecessor; he can’t realistically hope for his players to exceed themselves day in and day out. The skipper’s management of his resources, and the mental space he creates for himself and his colleagues, will be as vital to India’s chances as are their skills with bat and ball.

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