Team India for World Cup 2019, Selection Day: Focus on number 4, reserve wicketkeeper

Will it be Rishabh Pant or Dinesh Karthik? The five-member national selection committee will end the conjecture when they pick India's 15-man squad for the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup on Monday.

Rishabh Pant (in picture) seems to have an edge over Dinesh Karthik due to his recent batting exploits.   -  B. Jothi Ramalingam

When the five-member national selection committee meets at the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) headquarters in Mumbai on Monday to pick the 15-member squad for the Cricket World Cup 2019, the debate will likely be about the right choices for the second wicketkeeper and the No. 4 spot.

Virat Kohli, India captain, had made it clear last month that the core of the team for the World Cup had been more or less finalised in the last one year. He had admitted that only “one slot” was left to be filled. It led to talk on whether 21-year-old Rishabh Pant will be chosen as the second wicketkeeper ahead of the seasoned Dinesh Karthik.

This is likely to be the highlight of the meeting.

Pant or Karthik?

Pant has proved his worth for the national team over the last few months. Even though his wicketkeeping skills are not perfect, he has the ability to bat at any spot — between Nos. 1 and 7. His finishing skills have won him accolades from many former cricketers.

That certainly puts him ahead of Karthik in the pecking order. Karthik was left out of the squad for the ODI series against Australia last month, and he has been able to gather only 111 runs so far (after the innings against Chennai Super Kings on Sunday) for Kolkata Knight Riders in the Indian Premier League (IPL). Pant, on the other hand, has 222 runs under his belt in the IPL.

ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 — Full schedule, timings

However, both Kohli and M. S. K. Prasad, the chairman of selectors, had indicated IPL form will have no impact in the selection of the squad for the World Cup. But with K. L. Rahul in fine form in the tourney — 335 runs for Kings XI Punjab — and doubling up as a wicketkeeper, the selectors may be tempted to look at him as a back-up wicketkeeping option. He is, of course, already in contention for the spot of the third opener.

‘Tough call’

“Being a young talent, Pant has proved his mettle. Though he needs a bit more finesse behind the stumps, his finishing skills could help the team. It is a tough call for the selectors,” one of the BCCI officials privy to the selection process, told Sportstar.

Another tough call to be made would be to determine whether Ambati Rayudu should board the flight to England as a specialist No. 4 batsman. Until November, 2018, Rayudu looked certain to occupy the No. 4 spot. But since then, his poor form against fast bowling has raised eyebrows.

Many in the know of things feel it may be tough for him to sail through if the selectors consider all-rounder Vijay Shankar as more suited for the No. 4 spot. Vijay, the Tamil Nadu all-rounder, has proved his mettle for India and his IPL franchise, Sunrisers Hyderabad. Vijay is a seamer too. He could therefore be a handy option in crunch situations with bat as well as ball.

“As things stand now, Vijay and Hardik [Pandya] look set as the fourth seaming option. With Vijay around, the team would be able to keep the score ticking in the middle overs as well. That puts him in a better spot,” a former national selector said.

While Ravindra Jadeja appears certain to be included as the third spinner, the selectors need to determine whether India needs a fourth seamer, given the fact that the conditions could differ in some of the venues. While Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar are likely to be included, Umesh Yadav could miss out due to his inconsistency.

Ishant Sharma last played an ODI in 2016. Photo: K. R. Deepak

 

Earlier, the selectors had experimented with Khaleel Ahmed as an option for a possible left-arm seamer’s spot. But he failed to show resilience in crunch situations. Another option for the fourth seamer is the tried and tested Ishant Sharma, who has a good record in England. Or will the selectors decide to bring in Deepak Chahar? The man from Agra has the experience of playing in English conditions — he featured in the T20s against England last year and also played for India A. Chahar has performed reasonably well under M. S. Dhoni’s captaincy at Chennai Super Kings and if the selectors wish to bring in a “surprise element,” he could be in contention.

With the International Cricket Council (ICC) allowing the teams to make changes to the final squad until May 23 — seven days before the tournament begins — some BCCI officials have hinted that young pacers like Navdeep Saini could be flown to England as “reserve.”

In Mumbai for an IPL fixture against Mumbai Indians, captain Virat Kohli is likely to attend the selection meeting.

The likely composition
  • The certainties: Virat Kohli (c), Rohit Sharma (vc), Shikhar Dhawan, K. L. Rahul, M. S. Dhoni (wk), Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Ravindra Jadeja.
  • Options
  • Second wicketkeeper: Dinesh Karthik/Rishabh Pant
  • Specialist No. 4: Ambati Rayudu/Vijay Shankar
  • Fourth pacer: Umesh Yadav/Ishant Sharma/Deepak Chahar.
  • Reserve pacers (if required): Navdeep Saini, Khaleel Ahmed.