MUMBAI, Feb 15: Young Rishabh Pant took a giant stride towards realising his World Cup dream, pipping veteran Dinesh Karthik in the 15-member ODI squad for the Australia series while KL Rahul all but clinched the reserve opener’s slot for the mega event by earning a recall.
While the selectors announced two different teams for the first two and last three ODIs, the side that is expected to travel to England will be the one for the last three games of the series. The engagement with Australia starts on February 24 with the first T20 International in Visakhapatnam, while the World Cup is scheduled from May 30.
Rahul returned to the side after he was controversially called back midway through the tour of Australia following his and all-rounder Hardik Pandya’s loose talk on women in a TV show.
Regular captain Virat Kohli and pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah are also back in the squad for the entire Australia series after a break and even vice-captain Rohit Sharma will not be resting.
The committee headed by MSK Prasad also announced the T20 squad for the two-match series, in which rookie Punjab leg-spinner Mayank Markande made the cut and Kuldeep Yadav was rested.
“As a back-up spinner we are looking at him (Markande). So we have been grooming him through the India A process and he has taken a five-wicket haul (against England Lions on Friday),” Prasad said after the selection meeting.
However, all eyes were on the ODI squad which is supposed to be a mirror image of the team that will be travelling to England.
One of the biggest calls was regarding the second wicketkeeper-cum-reserve batsman’s slot. Karthik seems to have missed the bus to a much younger Pant, who is considered to be the future of Indian cricket and heir apparent to Mahendra Singh Dhoni behind the stumps.
Karthik was criticised for his on-field decision-making during the lost final T20 International against New Zealand in Hamilton. The Tamil Nadu veteran refused a single when Krunal Pandya was on a rampage at the other end.
Karthik later justified the call by saying that he was confident of pulling off a six which didn’t happen as India lost by four runs.
Pant, on the other hand, is yet to get a significant knock in ODIs but his big-hitting prowess have made him a potential match-winner in big-ticket events like the World Cup.
Karthik’s chances of making it to the World Cup are even more slim after Rahul made the cut on the back of his 89 and 81 for India A against England Lions.
Punjab seamer Siddarth Kaul seems to have joined the race for the fourth pacer’s slot at the business end of the preparation cycle.
“Siddarth Kaul is doing well and is now a part of the mix,” Prasad said.
Kaul made it to the first two ODIs from which Bhuvneshwar Kumar has been rested but more importantly, there are no left-arm seamers in the line-up.
Khaleel Ahmed, who was a disappointment in New Zealand, has been dropped and with Jaydev Unadkat not considered for selection, it is unlikely that the scenario will change prior to the World Cup unless there are some ground-breaking performances in the IPL.
Vijay Shankar’s decent run with the bat in New Zealand and his wicket-to-wicket seam up bowling makes him the back-up all-rounder in English conditions.
In fact Prasad admitted that Shankar’s “recent performances” have “changed the dynamics of the squad”.
With two leg-spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal being automatic selections, there are no finger spinners in the squad. Kedar Jadhav is expected to chip in with a few overs of off-break.
Quizzed on the oft-repeated aspect of workload management, BCCI acting secretary Amitabh Choudhary said the IPL franchises are being spoken to on the matter.
“We have been in conversation with the franchises on all issues concerning the game of cricket as well as the interests of the country,” he said. – PTI