The year 2018 was really crucial for the Indian cricket team. The Virat Kohli-led side didn't just appear clinical at home but also proved their credentials in the multiple overseas series they played. Testing young blood with experienced campaigners, the new-look Indian team has now established themselves as serious contenders for the ICC World Cup in England & Wales.
In a bid to find the perfect team, the Indian selectors and team management were seen trying all possible options in specialist roles in the recent series. And, it finally boiled down to 15th April when the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) announced the 15-man squad for the ICC mega event.
While the likes of Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli will be seen occupying the top-order, the inclusion of KL Rahul, MS Dhoni, Kedar Jadhav, Vijay Shankar, Dinesh Karthik and Hardik Pandya all provide adequate options to the Indian team in the middle-order. The bowling department looks well equipped with Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar bolstering the pace attack and the likes of Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal and Ravindra Jadeja adding teeth as spinners.April 15, 2019
Though the Indian squad looks perfectly balanced, the notable omissions of Rishabh Pant and Ambati Rayudu have irked cricket pundits and fans alike. Both Pant and Rayudu were in the fray for the World Cup, but the Indian selectors showed faith in Karthik and Shankar to do the job for India in the all-important World Cup.
While Pant staked his claim to a World Cup spot on the back of blazing batting performances, Rayudu, too, was looked upon as a potential candidate who could solve India's No. 4 problem. However, the Indian selectors thought otherwise and in a bid to derive team balance, they went for safer and more proven options in Karthik and Shankar.
There is no doubt over Pant's ability with the willow. On his day, the dashing left-hander is more than capable of running away with the game on the back of innovative strokes he boasts of in his armoury. But, Pant is a gamble in any game. On a day, his shot might come off and on the other, it won't. And, there's little doubt over his unpredictable batting.
However, Pant's omission for Karthik wasn't decided just on batting. The fact that India needed an extra wicket-keeping option is probably what ruined Pant's chances. While the young gun is undeniably a batting star for the future, his wicket-keeping skills are still a work in progress - something that probably gave Karthik leverage in his selection.
"In unison, we all felt either Pant or DK will come into the XI if Mahi (Dhoni) is injured. "If it's a semi-final or an important game, wicket-keeping also matters. That's the only reason we went ahead with Dinesh Karthik. Otherwise, Rishabh Pant was almost there," MSK Prasad, the chief national selector, revealed.
The competition between Shankar and Rayudu was also decided on similar lines. Rayudu was being looked upon as a viable No. 4 option after he showed consistency with the willow in the recent series. But, barring his batting might, Rayudu doesn't bowl (thanks to an ICC ban in January) and his fielding, alone, is just not good enough to make the cut.
On the other hand, Shankar has proven his mettle in the limited opportunities he got. His batting bolsters the Indian middle-order, while his medium-paced deliveries provide an extra bowling option to the 'Men in Blue'. And then, when it comes to fielding, Shankar's 'bullet throw' in the first T20I against New Zealand earlier in February should put all the doubts to rest.
“After the Champions Trophy, we tried quite a few middle-order batsmen. We also tried Shreyas Iyer and Manish Pandey. We gave a few chances to Rayudu, but what Vijay Shankar offers is three-dimensional. Apart from his batting, he can bowl if the conditions are overcast, which we might encounter in England. And he's a fantastic fielder. That's what went in Shankar's favour. He's a batsman who can bowl. We're looking at him at No.4 (to begin with). With Dinesh Karthik in and Kedar Jadhav, we've plenty of options at No. 4 right now," Prasad said.
Though it's a little too early to predict whether the inclusion of Shankar and Karthik ahead of Pant and Rayudu will work out, it surely gives India enough balance to adapt to the tournament as it progresses to the knockout stages.