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India's ODI selection analysis

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Selection_cricket_India_squadOn the 14th of October, the Indian selectors named a 15-man squad for the ODI series against New Zealand. Here is the squad: Virat Kohli (captain), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Ajinkya Rahane, Hardik Pandya, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Shardul Thakur.

It is easy for armchair critics to criticize the inclusion or omission of a certain player and some fans will feel disgruntled if their favourites miss out. A few months back the Indian selectors and their think-tank said that they would try out various players and different combinations keeping the 2019 World Cup in mind even if it meant losing a few matches in the process.

The team management and captain always say that competition for each place is always good and that it keeps the incumbent players on their toes. However, in reality, at least 8 to 9 players pick themselves while there is stiff competition for the remaining few slots.

Most squad members pick themselves

As far as the Indian ODI side is concerned, most of the boxes have been ticked, with some uncertainty over the number four and number six slots, assuming Dhoni bats at number five. Hardik Pandya has sealed all debate regarding the all-rounder’s position. The openers and Kohli pick themselves, while Rahane has cemented his claim for the reserve opener slot.

Musical chairs for the number 4 position

The most glaring and contentious omission is that of KL Rahul. While one is not privy to the rationale behind the selectors’ decisions, prior to the Sri Lankan series, the selectors had clarified that KL Rahul would be considered for the number four position.

Since India’s good run in the 2015 World Cup in Australia an astonishing 10 players have batted at number four. However, only four players have batted more than 5 innings at the spot: Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni, Rahane and Pandey. Yuvraj has fallen out of favour with the selectors due to issues of form and fitness, and Dhoni and Rahane are no longer being considered for that position.

Manish Pandey has a decent record at that spot averaging 36.6 with a batting strike rate of 92.89. However, if you take away his match-winning century against Australia at Sydney, his average is just 15.8.

Hardik Pandya was also tried in the same position and came out with flying colours, showing both his versatility and excellent game awareness. Whether he has the technique to bat at that position in England, where the ball swings prodigiously, is still up for debate.

So, there are just 3 contenders for the number 4 position: Pandey, Jadhav and Rahul. Rahul has played just one innings at number 4 and scored 17.

One hopes that his omission from the upcoming series has been done with the aim of giving Pandey and Jadhav more of an opportunity while still keeping an open mind about Rahul and not permanently ruling him out. As one of just three players who has scored a century in all 3 international formats, he should be given a chance to prove his credentials in the middle order and not excluded because they consider him an opener.

Karthik: a reserve keeper or vying for a spot in the middle order

Dinesh Karthik has been in the squad in the recent past without getting much game time and the selectors need to include him in the playing XI to find out if he has the goods. They also need to be clear on whether he is just a middle order option or is in the running as a back-up keeper. He had done well in the two opportunities he got in the West Indies and he was also the second highest aggregate run scorer in the Duleep Trophy.

One area where the selectors have definitely erred is not selecting Rishabh Pant for the series. Pant has not been in good form recently, but is definitely one for the future and yet he is being made to cool his heels in domestic cricket.

In fact, the selectors could have rested Dhoni for this series and tried out Pant. If a year later, the selectors decide not to include Dhoni in the squad for the World Cup in 2019, his replacement will be severely undercooked.

Where do Ashwin and Jadeja stand?

During the last few months, much has been made of how wrist spinners have the ability to take wickets in the middle overs and are more valuable to the side than finger spinners. There is no doubt that Kuldeep and Chahal have done exceedingly well in the few opportunities that they have got, and Axar Patel is now being viewed as the front-line finger spinner ahead of India’s two main spinners in the Test format.

However, they should have selected at least one of Ashwin and Jadeja to see their performance in the series as the two have a lot of cricket left in them and it would be hasty to write their obituaries.

Two fast bowling slots are still up for grabs

The squad for England in 2019 will almost certainly have 4 seam bowlers in addition to Hardik Pandya. There is no question that Bumrah and Bhuvi have cemented their spots, but Shami and Umesh were discarded after just one bad game against the Aussies. In fact, Umesh picked up 4 wickets even though he conceded 71 runs.

This omission could be a blessing in disguise if it gives Shardul a chance to show what he’s got. One hopes that the selectors have not made up their minds after just one bad outing for the 2 senior pros.

One understands that the selectors have a thankless job and can pick only 15 players from the vast pool of talent that India have. This article is by no means playing devil’s advocate and criticizing them just for the sake of doing so. However, the selectors need to show more vision and let each player know where they stand in the long term, assuming they haven’t done so already.

 

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