Team India selection meet: Who will be out? Who will be in?
In normal times, a selection meeting to pick a team for the West Indies tour, given their current strength, would be a routine affair. Sunday’s meeting, however, assumes added significance because it’s the first after the World Cup, and for the selectors it will be like starting on a clean slate. How the MSK Prasad-led committee proceeds when the panel meets to pick the Indian cricket squads for next month’s tour will give a broad idea of the road map being laid post the UK campaign.
In the cycle leading up to the World Cup, the combination was picked with the focus solely on winning the tournament—for some key positions, seasoned players were preferred over youth for their experience in handling pressure. From here on, selectors will have to balance their choices with an eye on the future.
It’s a meeting where the fate of a few seniors will be decided. The main focus has been on Mahendra Singh Dhoni. The former India captain has made himself unavailable for the tour, making things easy for the selectors as of now.
An honorary Lieutenant Colonel in the parachute regiment of the Territorial Army, Dhoni, it is learnt, will spend most of the next two months with the unit. It is also learnt that the selectors no longer see him in the Indian team’s scheme of things.
It clears the way for Rishabh Pant to take over as the first choice keeper-batsman in ODIs too. However, the team management is not entirely convinced about his keeping skills. His goof-ups in the matches against Australia before the World Cup cost India the home series in March, and him a place in the original squad. He was drafted in later as an injury replacement and played a couple of impressive cameos.
The selectors will also look to build the team for next year’s Twenty20 World Cup and things don’t look bright for the other veterans either. It could be the end of the road for Dinesh Karthik and Kedar Jadhav after failing in the World Cup. Kohli hardly bowled Jadhav, who will find it difficult to make it as a specialist batsman. Karthik played as a batsman and flopped.
An unsettled middle-order proved India’s undoing at the World Cup and the main focus of the selectors will be to restructure it. They will look to blood players from the India A team playing in the West Indies and stabilising the No. 4 spot will be the most crucial.
Mayank Agarwal, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey and Shubman Gill are the favourites among those who could be tried out. Iyer has played six ODIs (2 50s, avg 42). Gill got two games at No 3 against New Zealand early this year. Both have been among runs for India A in the Caribbean. Iyer has scores of 77, 2 and 47 while Gill has two half-centuries in three innings (10, 62 and 77).
Manish Pandey is the most experienced and was among the batsmen tried in the middle-order for India in the cycle leading to the World Cup before being discarded after the 2018 Asia Cup. Pandey, the India A skipper, scored a hundred at No 4 in the third unofficial ODI against West Indies A on July 16.
Opener Mayank Agarwal was an injury replacement for Vijay Shankar at the World Cup, but did not get to make his ODI debut. The selectors though were impressed with how he adapted to Test cricket after landing in Australia as injury replacement. He has a good List A record and should retain his place.
India’s pace talent pool is overflowing and the likes of Khaleel Ahmed, Navdeep Saini and Deepak Chahar will vie for the back-up role. All three are with India A. Khaleel, as a left-arm pacer, adds variety to the attack and was impressive in IPL. Saini has stung teams with sharp pace and took a fifer in the second unofficial ODI against Windies A. Deepak Chahar, who bowls a piercing outswinger, had a very good IPL season and will be in the frame for the T20 team.
There was speculation over the main players being rested, but expectations are so high in Indian cricket that a semi-final finish at the World Cup is seen as a failure. It has put some pressure on Virat Kohli. Leading the team to a strong showing in the Caribbean can help quickly silence growing voices pointing to his captaincy shortcomings.
“The players have a month-long break, they will be well rested for the West Indies tour. We should have a full-strength side,” a BCCI insider said.
It means Kohli should also have at his disposal the world’s best fast bowler, Jasprit Bumrah. Among the first-choice players, Shikhar Dhawan and Vijay Shankar are undergoing rehab at the National Cricket Academy.
Dhawan, who fractured his hand at the World Cup, has just started batting again and may not be match fit for the tour.
With the two Tests being part of the ICC Test Championship, India will field a full-strength side. The only doubt is Prithvi Shaw, recovering from a hip injury.
His India under-19 batch-mate, Gill, is knocking on the doors for selection in the longer format as well.
Gujarat’s Priyank Panchal and Bengal’s Abhimanyu Easwaran have caught the selectors’ attention by the weight of their runs in domestic cricket and for India A and should be among the names discussed.
India start the tour with the first two T20Is in Florida, on August 3 and 4. The third T20I will be played in Guyana on August 6. Guyana will also host the first ODI on August 8, while the next two ODIs will be played in Port-of-Spain on August 11 and 14. The Tests are in Antigua (Aug 22-26) and Kingston (Aug 30-Sept 3).