With selectors naming their 15-man India squad for the ICC World Cup 2019, we now know who is headed to England and Wales for the 50-over extravaganza. To be captained by Virat Kohli, some of the names were certain to be included but there was lack of clarity on some names. Additionally, there were question marks over whether the selectors will name two all-rounders or just one and how many seam bowling options. That has become clear after the meeting of selectors and captain Virat Kohli at the BCCI headquarters in Mumbai.
Rishabh Pant has not been included in the Indian squad with Dinesh Karthik bagging the second wicketkeeper spot behind MS Dhoni. Pant’s absence highlights selectors and Kohli’s stance that the team will not be picked based on their IPL form. The difference between Pant and Karthik, per MSK Prasad, came down to the latter’s better wicketkeeping skills. "In unison, we felt either DK or Pant will only come into the playing eleven if Mahi is injured. So that at juncture if it is a crucial match, a quarterfinal or a semifinal, keeping also matters," said Prasad on the dilemma. "That is the only reason why we went ahead with DK otherwise Pant was almost there and unfortunate to miss out. Pant has a lot of talent," added Prasad, himself a former wicketkeeper batsman.
It's impossible to keep everyone happy with team selections but Karthik inclusion surprising. Selectors guilty of showing no consistency in his case. Discarded after Jan 2019 to select straight for the WC. Shankar is a lucky man to make it. #CricketLive #StarSports
- Sanjay Manjrekar (@sanjaymanjrekar) 15 April 2019
Pant has only played five ODIs and scored 93 runs from four innings at an average of 23.25 and strike rate of 130.98. Oddly, Pant earned a Grade A contract in March and is India’s Test wicketkeeper but hasn’t made the cut for ODI keeping. During India’s series against Australia, Pant came under fire from the Mohali crowd following missed chances and attempt at fancy glovework.
For a long period, Ambati Rayudu was India’s destined No. 4 batsman. The Indian selectors and think tank finally had a solution for their question: ‘After Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli, who can we bank upon?’ and Rayudu fit the bill. Helped by a strong showing at the IPL last season where he scored 602 runs at an average of 43, Rayudu looked a certain inclusion in the Indian side.
Ambati Rayudu must be shattered though. His place was deemed certain and he had even quit 4 day cricket to focus on this. But form is such a cruel mistress. The harder he tried the more he seemed to struggle. My heart goes out to him.
- Harsha Bhogle (@bhogleharsha) 15 April 2019
Last October, Kohli said, "Apart from bowlers resting here or there in one-day cricket, we only changed the No. 4 slot because we wanted somebody to cement it. We believe that Rayudu is the right person to capitalise because he’s experienced and he has won many games for his state and in IPL cricket. He has a great one-day record already for India, so I think the batting order is sorted as far as we’re concerned."
"Giving him enough game-time between now and the World Cup, I think that particular slot will be sorted. If you see our one-day performances there’s not much to ponder on apart from that one slot," he went on to add.
But fickle are the ways of international sport. In the 20 innings, he played since the start of the Asia Cup, Rayudu batted 14 times at No. 4, scoring 464 runs including one century and two 50s, at an average of 42.18 and strike rate of 85.60. He also opened the batting once and played at No. 3 on a handful of occasions.
Suddenly, Rayudu’s spot looked questionable with Rohit Sharma saying No.4 was an ideal spot for MS Dhoni. Later, mid-way through the New Zealand series, Kohli said India were looking to "solidify" the No. 4 position.
Vijay Shankar’s "three-dimensional" offering has made him a No. 4 candidate alongside Karthik and Kedar Jadhav, informed MSK Prasad.
With Shikhar Dhawan suffering from questionable form and inconsistency at the top of the batting order, it seemed important that selectors name a backup opener. Ajinkya Rahane’s name did the rounds for this aspect alone.
"In domestic cricket he [Rahane] has been in form. He is very much in contention for the World Cup," Prasad told ESPNCricinfo in February.
"I have always believed the team comes first and respected the management and the selectors' decision. I will continue to do that. But in the end, it is important that your performance is recognised," said Rahane on the sidelines of Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament.
"The point is that if as a player I have always played for the team, then I deserve chances more consistently. That's the least I am asking," he added.
However, Rahane last played an ODI for India in South Africa in February 2018 and was always an outside candidate. Most recently, he had been in decent form in List A cricket, scoring 597 runs in 11 innings at an average of 74.62. He has also hit two hundreds and three half-centuries.
KL Rahul has come in as the back up opening option into the India squad and could move to the middle order if required.
India’s highest wicket-taker at the 2015 World Cup, Umesh Yadav has missed the flight for the 2019 edition.
For the selectors, the two available approaches were in picking two seam bowling all rounders in Hardik Pandya and Vijay Shankar or bring in a fourth seamer. For the latter criteria, Khaleel Ahmed and Umesh Yadav were top candidates. Umesh had bowled brilliantly in the Ranji Trophy semifinal against Kerala picking up 12 wickets.
"The fourth bowler that the team is looking at, I feel I fit that role. I don’t think any of the youngsters have done enough to replace the senior bowlers. At the end of the day, you are going to play the World Cup and not just any other tournament like a bilateral series," said Yadav to IANS.
"Experience is a must on the big stage. Someone with an experience of playing 10-12 matches is not enough because if a situation arises that one of the frontline bowler is injured, you must have the replacement who is able to handle the pressure of that situation. You need someone who can bowl 140 kmph-plus and has the mental ability to perform under pressure," he said.
Following an injury in the Ranji Trophy final, Umesh skipped the Irani Cup. He was then not picked in India’s squad to face Australia at home and has now not been included for the World Cup either.