Indian cricket team selectors are likely to focus discussions on the shaky form of key batsmen and the choice of spin bowlers in the absence of injured Ravichandran Ashwin when they pick the 15-player squad to defend the title in the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 starting on June 1.
With the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) announcing on Sunday that Virat Kohli’s team will play in the eight-team event, fears of the national team becoming collateral damage in the board’s fight with International Cricket Council (ICC) have gone.
For once, chief selector MSK Prasad and his two colleagues will have little worry over the pace composition with Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah and all-rounder Hardik Pandya picking themselves.
However, for a change, the selectors are expected to pore over batting options and Delhi teenager Rishabh Pant could make his ODI team entry. Pace will be the biggest challenge provided by India’s major rivals South Africa, Australia and hosts England and the batsmen will have little time to shake off their IPL blues before the tournament starts.
And the two men expected to anchor the innings, Virat Kohli for Royal Challengers Bangalore since return from shoulder injury, and Ajinkya Rahane for Rising Pune Supergiant, look below their best.
Rohit Sharma is expected to return, having proved his fitness in the IPL following thigh surgery, but opener KL Rahul is out due to shoulder injury.
Former skipper MS Dhoni’s role as an assured finisher is diminishing. This could well be the swansong of the double World Cup-winning captain, who also led the team to the 2013 Champions Trophy title.
While Kedar Jadhav and Yuvraj Singh played brilliant knocks against England at home, in the last ODI series India played in January, the selectors could pick the 19-year-old Rishabh Pant.
It won’t be easy to tee off in English conditions suited for swing bowling, but Rishabh Pant showed in the last domestic season, and with his stunning 97 for Delhi Daredevils against Gujarat Lions, that he could provide the X factor. Rishabh Pant has already made his India debut, in the final T20 tie against England in Bangalore, remaining five not out in the big win.
Parthiv Patel and Manish Pandey, besides in-form domestic batsmen Rahul Tripathi (Rising Pune Supergiant) and Mumbai Indians’ Nitish Rana too are in the fringes, though they may find it tough to make the cut.
In spin bowling, seasoned Amit Mishra will face competition from fellow leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal, a rare bright spot for misfiring RCB this season after taking a record 6/25 in the last T20 against England in February. Left-arm spinner Axar Patel, who has also been solid with bat for Kings XI Punjab will also be in the reckoning.