India’s World Cup squad: The key takeaways

India‘s squad for the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup was announced on Monday in Mumbai, with the BCCI selection committee choosing to drop Rishabh Pant and Ambati Rayudu and recall Dinesh Karthik.

With Hardik Pandya fit again, he reclaimed his place as one of three allrounders. Ravindra Jadeja was retained, with the selectors viewing his left-arm spin as handy in the second half of the World Cup when the surfaces in England are expected to get slower and drier.

After the squad of 15 was announced, here are the major talking points:

Where did it all go wrong for Rayudu? 

MSK Prasad, the BCCI chairman of selectors, said at the press conference on Monday that when he and his colleagues sat to pick the squad they looked at Vijay Shankar as the ideal candidate to bat at No 4 at the World Cup.

This statement is somewhat puzzling. For starters, over the past six months Rayudu was identified by India’s captain, vice-captain and coach as the man to bat at No 4 at the World Cup. Kohli all but confirmed Rayudu as India’s World Cup No 4 last year after Rohit Sharma endorsed the batsman’s skills at the Asia Cup.

In the ODI tours in Australia and New Zealand earlier this year, Rayudu averaged 42.80 from seven games. Then when Australia toured India in March, he struggled with scores of 13, 18 and 2. The management then dropped Rayudu from the XI for the fourth and fifth ODIs.

Ambati Rayudu India World Cup squad
Ambati Rayudu has lost his place in India’s ODI squad after three poor games. © AFP

In the ongoing IPL, Rayudu has scores of 28, 5, 1, 0, 21*, 21, 57 and 5. Did his IPL form impact Rayudu’s exclusion?

Secondly, Shankar has never batted at No 4 in ODIs. In his first ODI innings, he batted at No 6 and made 45. In his second ODI innings, Shankar went in a No 5 and made 46 off 41 balls. In his next innings, he batted at No 7 and made 32 off 30. Same as the fourth, he got his chance at No 7 and made 26 off 15.

Prasad, at the press conference, said that compared to Rayudu, Shankar offered India a “three dimensional” option. “It’s not that anything went against Rayudu, it’s that a few things went right for Shankar,” he said.

Prima facie, we can surmise that three poor ODIs signalled the end of Rayudu’s time in India’s ODI squad, and that the spark shown by Shankar in his brief opportunities for India – his fielding has been electric – swayed the selectors at the last minute.

With Rayudu axed, who is India’s No 4?

In Prasad’s estimation, India could use Shankar, Karthik and even Kedar Jadhav at No 4 in England. There is also the possibility that MS Dhoni moves up a spot, which is something that Rohit alluded to earlier this year and what Anil Kumble called for recently.

Asked about Rahul’s inclusion for the World Cup, Prasad said that the selectors had picked him as the “reserve opener” but that the team had specific plans for him “in the top order”.

Could this mean that with Rayudu dropped, India play Kohli a spot lower at No 4? India’s coach Ravi Shastri has spoken about the option of getting Kohli to bat at No 4 – a spot he’s only been used at once since 2015 – and it remains to be seen it this materialises.

Vijay Shankar No 4 India World Cup
Vijay Shankar: India’s next No 4 for the World Cup? © AFP

Karthik’s recall: his win or Pant’s loss?

The question here is: did Karthik win this round, or did Pant lose it?

According to the selectors, Karthik’s experience was what they valued. If that was the case, why did they drop him from the ODI squad in March? Prasad also said that Pant’s wicketkeeping went against him and that Karthik is the better wicketkeeper. So then why is Pant India’s Test wicketkeeper and not Karthik?

Pant has outscored Karthik in the IPL, but has now lost his place as the selectors opted for solidity. Captaining Kolkata Knight Riders, Karthik has in seven innings scored 111 runs, with one half-century, at an average of 18.50 and strike-rate of 118.08 and taken four catches. Pant, playing for Delhi Capitals, has made 245 runs at 35 with a strike-rate of 161.18 and one half-century to go with 11 catches and three stumpings.

So this was not a decision made on current form, but one taken with the view of having a cool head available should Dhoni get injured. Earlier this year, Karthik revealed that the Indian team management wanted him to finish matches at No 6. He may not get to bat at No 6, or even make India’s XI, but he has knocked Pant out for the time being.

Rishabh Pant India World Cup squad
Rishabh Pant hasn’t set the IPL on fire and that may have gone against him. © BCCI

Ravindra Jadeja’s lucky break

With Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal certainties and Kedar Jadhav a handy slow-bowling option, do India need a fourth spin option in England?

In 2018, the eight ODIs that Jadeja played did not feature Pandya. In 2019, the seven ODIs he has got have each come when Pandya has been missing. This shows that Jadeja’s inclusion is based on Pandya’s absence.

In ODIs in England, Jadeja’s bowling average is 27 and economy rate 5.13. He famously helped India win the 2013 Champions Trophy in England, but when India went back in 2017 to defend their title he managed four wickets in five ODIs. As that tournament showed when England met eventual winners Pakistan in the semi-final at Cardiff, a dry and very Asian surface can prove detrimental for non-Asian sides, so it is clear that the BCCI selectors see Jadeja as a handful as the World Cup drags on.

What is India’s ideal starting XI?

In a format which pits each team against the other before the semi-finals, getting off to a strong start is imperative. This puts the focus on India’s XI for their World Cup opener against South Africa on June 1. It will be tough for the management to make changes after just one match, and thus India’s first three games versus South Africa, Australia and New Zealand are the ones where the best team has to be picked.

Game four is against Pakistan, and by that stage if India have not figured out their combinations, it could be too late.

India’s likely World Cup XI:

1 Rohit Sharma, 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Virat Kohli (capt), 4 Vijay Shankar, 5 MS Dhoni (wk), 6 Kedar Jadhav, 7 Hardik Pandya, 8 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 9 Kuldeep Yadav, 10 Mohammed Shami, 11 Jasprit Bumrah