Selectors have few worries ahead of 2019 ICC World Cup
India round off their long tours to Australia and New Zealand on Sunday with a great deal of satisfaction.
Across all three formats, results have been good, leading many to tip India as favourites for the ICC World Cup to be held in England this summer.
With Virat Kohli opting out of the T20 series and on a well-deserved holiday, it has given coach Ravi Shastri and stand-in captain Rohit Sharma time to experiment.
It's clear, India have used the T20 series against New Zealand as a build-up for the World Cup. There has been tinkering with the squad, a few changes and results on expected lines. Undoubtedly, Rohit has been a huge hit with the bat and his consistency marks him out as a man in form.
As the leading run-getter with authority in T20 internationals, Rohit has that aura of being a batsman who is playing with great touch and enjoying whatever he is doing. At a time when almost everyone has started speculating on what will be the possible 16-member squad for the World Cup, there really are not too many worries for the selectors.
With Shastri hinting Kohli could come in at No. 4 in the World Cup in England so that the team can bat deep, the jigsaw kind of fits quite easily. The big debate or so one thought was who would come in at the No.3 position.
Perhaps, Rishabh Pant has provided enough answers to that as well, with his ebullient knock of 40 runs in Auckland on Friday catching the eye. Reports trickling in from New Zealand say Pant has been watched closely by none other MS Dhoni. Dhoni himself goes into the World Cup as a player with good scores in recent matches in ODIs and tons of experience.
Frankly speaking, the battle for places in the World Cup revolves more around the reserve slots, with almost the first 12 so easy to pick. Starting with Rohit and Shikhar Dhawan, you have Pant at No.3.
If Kohli comes in at No.4 and Dhoni at No.5, there is more batting down the line if Ambati Rayudu comes in at No.6. After that, you have to fit in the bowlers where Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah and possibly Kuldeep Yadav take up the No.7 to 11 places.
One could well ask what the hurry is to speculate on the World Cup team. These days, when there is a great deal of professionalism associated with the Indian team and the build-up for the big event in England proceeding on the right track, it is a good sign.
Once the team returns home, they will then fine-tune for the last stretch by playing five ODIs against Australia. Possibly, in these matches, one could get to see how the five other places get filled up from 12 to 16.
Given Yuzvendra Chahal's ability to fox the batsmen with his spin, he can be named as the No.12 player while for variety in the form of left-arm pace, Khaleel Ahmed can be a great pick as the No. 13 player. Khaleel has impressed in New Zealand and in England, where there will be more movement for the fast bowlers, a left-arm speed merchant can be a great variety.
Possibly for the No.14 place, it could be a toss-up between Kedar Jadhav, who did well in Australia and Dinesh Karthik. No.15 can be a contest between Ravindra Jadeja, spinner cum good fielder, and Krunal Pandya. If one talks of getting in a reserve opener, Shubhman Gill and experienced KL Rahul may be the selectors' dilemma for the last place in the flight to England.
Shastri has hinted the selectors could well be taking a look at how players perform in the Indian Premier League. With the premium club cricket tournament in India advanced this time and its schedule still not very clear, IPL does become important.
Today's cricketers are at par with professionals in other sport. They are expected to be super-fit, play almost non-stop and maintain high levels of motivation. Given the format of the IPL, it is very demanding on every player who is part of various franchisees.
The modern-day cricketer works hard on fitness and at the same time has to ensure he does not become stale. And in that sense, it has been good Kohli managed to get a good break. There are some who will suggest Indian cricketers are preserved for the World Cup but that's simply not possible.
It's similar to the professional football players who get paid so well by clubs, they do not get released for the FIFA World Cup in advance. Many have carried injuries into the World Cup.
However, in Indian cricket, that is just not possible as fitness tests rarely leave any room for compromise.