The Indian cricket team is setting the Australian pitches on fire with a stunning already display. They have already retained the Border-Gavaskar trophy by taking a 2-1 lead and are very well on their way to becoming one of the few Asian sides to win a test series against Australia, in Australia. Last year they captured Asia, winning the 2018 Asian Cup with aplomb.
This and their relentless form in ODIs has led many to label India as the firm favourites in the upcoming cricket World Cup 2019. WIth only some 13 ODIs to be played before the Men in Blue step up on the plane to England, it is high time that Indian selectors- M Prasad & Company- start contemplating on the starting XI.
The Asia Cup victory over Bangladesh was a dominant one, with the tail order showing character in the second innings to chase a competitive target set by Bangladesh.
But unfortunately, it also exposed the winning side’s struggle in the middle order. This can be considered as the old rhetoric around the Men in Blue whose middle order capitulation has now become famous. The issue was brought to fore in India’s tour of England when the team seemed to over-rely on one man, Virat Kohli, and this came down like a pack of cards.
Based on the current form of the players, we take a look at the key players that could make it to the cricket extravaganza in England- and those that wouldn’t.
The Direct Entries
It may seem amazing that only three players can actually walk into the Indian ODI side without question as of today: Virat Kohli, Jasprit Bumrah, and Rohit Sharma.
Kohli can arguably be considered as the best batsman in contemporary cricket and thus becomes an automatic choice.
Bumrah has, of late, proved to be an asset for his team and a deadly weapon, especially in the death overs. He has proved to be equally effective in foreign conditions with his exceptional performance in England and Australia. Bumrah even scalped 9 wickets against the Aussies to help India take a 2-1 lead in the third test. He thus becomes a no-brainer in the selection.
Rohit Sharma is the third Indian player that has virtually confirmed his place in the starting XI. He can single-handedly take games away from the opposition with the bat alone. Once he settles in the innings, expect no less than big hundreds to flow from his bat.
However, things get difficult when we consider an able partner for him. Although Shikhar Dhawan may be the first choice for the opening position which is natural. But Dhawan has, time and again, shown that he can play brilliantly in the subcontinent region. He demonstrated that with a stellar performance in Asia Cup in Dubai. However, when it comes to playing in foreign conditions, he struggled to convert good starts, especially in the ODI series in England.
He then struggled back at home against the West Indies, scoring 4, 29, 35, 38, and 6 over the course of five ODIs. With the rise of Prithvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal, who is playing really well in the ongoing tour of Australia, there will be question marks over whether Shikhar Dhawan could make it to the starting XI of the squad. But, he most probably will, considering that he is significantly more experienced than his young compatriots. However, it goes without saying that both Shaw and Agarwal would also make it to the 16 member team.
However, it may not be the same story for another talented but underperforming batsman: KL Rahul. The feisty batsman disappointed in England, and more recently against Australia. Things reached a low when his he was replaced by a young Mayank Agarwal in the third test. And unfortunately for him, Agarwal played really well in his debut test, scoring a well-deserved half-century.
Moreover, there are talks that he could feature in the upcoming ODI series against the Aussies, further dimming the Mangalore-based batsman’s chances of making it to the 16-member WC squad.
The million dollar mystery to solve for the selectors will be the middle order conundrum.
Ambati Rayudu has put forward his case with some good performances in the Asia Cup and against the West Indies, where he scored knocks of 77* and 100. In 45 ODIs that he has played in a blue jersey, he averages a decent 51.67. It is thus expected that he could make it to England as well.
The others in the run for the elusive middle order slots are Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik, and Ajinkya Rahane.
While Pandey and Karthik have been frequently playing in the ODI setup for their country, things are different for the Maharashtrian pair of Jadhav and Rahane.
Kedar Jadhav has traditionally suffered from injuries and has thus been in and out of the team. However, his vast experience and the ability to pick up some vital wickets could give him an edge over Manish Pandey – if he manages to stay fit.
As for Rahane, he has been mostly utilized in the Test series and has, as a result, become a Cheteshwar Pujara-esque player of late. Will he be banished from the ODI squad with the ‘Test-specialist’ tag? Only time will tell.
Lastly, there will be a big headache for the selectors when it comes to deciding between MS Dhoni and Rishabh Pant. While it is probably the last World Cup for the former, the latter, with his impressive performance in the recent matches, has made a strong case for himself.
Pant comes in the same mould as that of MS Dhoni- a stylish, explosive batsman and an able wicketkeeper. He is considered as the ultimate successor to MSD when he retires. But with the veteran Jharkhand cricketer struggling for form, the decision to choose between the two will be extremely close.
Till a few weeks ago, the all-rounder’s spot looked to be locked down by Hardik Pandya. But then came the unfortunate lower back injury that put the talented player out for long spells.
In the meanwhile, it was his Gujarat compatriot, Ravindra Jadeja who stole the thunder in his place. This week, he scored a stunning 82 in the fourth test against Australia before returning with two crucial wickets of opener Marcus Harris (playing at 79) and Shaun Marsh. With Pandya facing a fight against time to make a return in the ODIs before the WC, it is inevitable that the selectors will play it safe and choose Ravindra Jadeja.
The bowling attack is relatively sorted out- Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Kuldeep Yadav and Mohammad Shami become the immediate choice with their noteworthy performances lately.
Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma would form the backup options for these men since both have extensive experience of playing in foreign conditions. Khaleel Ahmed and leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal may find themselves lucky to be called up late should they have a good IPL season.
That concludes our 16-membered squad for the cricket World Cup 2019. It would be wise to let you know this is a preliminary prediction and that things will heavily depend on the IPL season as well as injuries.
Here is the predicted Indian squad for Cricket World Cup 2019:
Ajinkya Rahane/ Prithvi Shaw
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