After six days and seven matches of the ICC World Cup 2019, it’s (finally) time for Virat Kohli and his Men in Blue to kick off their campaign in England. The Indian team take on South Africa in their first of nine group stage matches at Southampton on Wednesday, 5 June.
Since there’s been no official word from the team management on any injuries, all 15 members of the squad will be available for selection. With KL Rahul firing in the warm-up matches and the English conditions forcing some changes, India may have to make some big selection decisions on the day of the game.
While no one can be sure who will be the final eleven, here’s a look at the likely team that will feature.
Rohit Sharma & Shikhar Dhawan
When it comes to the opening duo, there’s no doubt that Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan will walk out to bat at the start of India’s innings. However both of them haven’t been among the runs, managing to score a total of just 24 runs in the two warm-up matches against Bangladesh and New Zealand.
After the openers comes in Virat Kohli at No 3, who will also be leading India in a ICC World Cup match for the first time ever. In the recent past, Kohli has had an impeccable record against South Africa – besides averaging 66.79 against the Proteas, he has scored an impressive 856 runs in the last 10 ODIs against them.
He was named in the squad as a back-up opener but after a century in the warm-up match against Bangladesh KL Rahul is the likely choice for India at the no 4 batting spot. Carrying his form from the Indian Premier League to England, the 27-year-old scored 108 in the warm-up match against Bangladesh.
He’s 36, and will perhaps be playing his last ICC World Cup, but there’s certainly no doubt about MS Dhoni’s importance in the Indian line-up.
Besides his priceless input to bowlers from behind the stumps, assistance with taking the DRS and setting the field, the World Cup-winning captain will be a stabilising factor at No 5. His century in the Bangladesh warm-up could well just be a trailer for what he has in store for fans before he draws curtains on that illustrious career.
Back to full fitness according to captain Kohli, all-rounder Kedar Jadhav is likely to be part of the playing eleven against South Africa.
Since hurting his left shoulder during the last IPL round robin league game for Chennai Super Kings, Jadhav has been actively participating in net sessions but missed out on the warm-up matches.
In the pre-match press conference, Virat said “Kedar is batting in the nets now and he is hitting the ball well, so it is always nice to have him back in the mix because of the variety he brings into the side”.
If the weather remains clear on the day, the team management could field Kedar, not only because he’s a preferred no 6 batsman but also because of South African batsmen’s weakness against the slow bowlers.
The inclusion of part-time spinner Kedar Jadhav may put more pressure on Hardik (the bowler) than he is used to. But the popular opinion before the ICC World Cup kicked off was that the all-rounder Pandya is going to have a massive impact on India’s campaign, and the team management would nothing short of that from the explosive cricketer.
In a recent interview, friend and teammate KL Rahul heaped praised on Hardik. He said, “He is somebody from who the team expects a lot and he always takes the responsibility thrown in at him. Give him any role and Hardik takes it up with a smile on his face. He wants to do it for the team and gives his all. That's what makes him who he is. Someone who gives hundred percent each time he is on the field.”
Pace Trio: Bumrah, Bhuvi, Shami
A spell of rain on Monday and forecast of cloudy weather and shower on Wednesday has resulted in the likelihood of India playing three specialist pacers – Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
"We know it is a different situation in England when there is a cloud cover and when there is sun out. With two new balls, if the pitch has something to offer, then an extra seamer comes into the play big time. But even on a good pitch, on a batting-friendly pitch with two new balls, I foresee the first 10 overs to be challenging if there is cloud cover," Kohli said ahead of the match.
With India going with three specialist pacers including a fully fit Jadhav, the team will have to exclude either Kuldeep Yadav or Yuzvendra Chahal, and the latter is likely to miss this one out.
South Africa's record against the two wrist spinners during India's last away tour was below-par with most of them unable to pick them off their wrists. On that 2018 tour of South Africa, Kuldeep had 17 wickets from six games while Chahal had one less from equal number of matches.
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