India's predicted World Cup squad
Could this be the squad that will bring India a third WC title?

With India announcing their 15-member squads for the upcoming Australia ODI series at home, their final international series before the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup, it seems certain that this bunch will most likely travel to England in May for the marquee event. (ALSO READ: Five takeaways from India’s ODI squad to face Australia)

While in New Zealand India’s mantra was to experiment and provide opportunities to fringe players, the squad for the home series against Australia is a clear sign that the two-time champions are done messing around.

Reports of resting vice-captain Rohit Sharma were unfounded, while the returns of captain Virat Kohli, Jasprit Bumrah and KL Rahul led to the the axing of Dinesh Karthik and Khaleel Ahmed from the ODIs.

Since the time India entered the home stretch of their preparations for the World Cup – from July 2018 with the England tour – Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit have played the maximum games for them – 21 each – while the polarising MS Dhoni has had 20 ODIs to his name, followed by Kuldeep Yadav (19), Ambati Rayudu (18), Yuzvendra Chahal (17) and Bhuvneshwar Kumar (17).

A total of 26 players played for India from the England ODIs, with only 11 players playing more than ten matches. And from those who played less that ten matches, Mohammed Shami, Bumrah, Hardik Pandya, Vijay Shankar, Rishabh Pant, and Rahul find a place in the squad for the home series against Australia. The two who miss out, despite playing more than ten matches, are Karthik and Ravindra Jadeja.

Karthik, during the period, averaged 40.33 with the bat largely donning the finisher’s role, while Jadeja averaged 19 with the bat and 30.87 with the ball. Looking at those numbers, Jadeja doesn’t merit a place in the World Cup squad – add to that the phenomenal numbers racked up by the the other two spinners – Kuldeep (21.28) and Chahal (26.89). The duo has also taken 66 wickets between them.

While the head of the selection committee, MSK Prasad, emphasised that this is not the end of the road for the Tamil Nadu batsman, but as far as the World Cup is concerned, it sure seem that way for Karthik. (ALSO READ: Have shortlisted 18 players and will rotate them: Prasad)

Apart from the regulars, there were two spots up for grabs and they have gone to Shankar, who provides both batting and bowling option for Kohli, and Shami, who was marred by injuries last year, but pushed a strong case with consistently good performances. He pushes out left-arm seamer Khaleel, who started well, but suffered a dip in form in the New Zealand series.

Pandya and Rahul’s suspensions in December last year had led to an imbalance in the Indian squad, but with both back now and with decent enough forms, that balance has returned. Pandya slots in like the last piece of the puzzle at No.7 for India while Rahul will be the backup opening option for Dhawan and Rohit.

While recent reports have mooted the idea of Kohli batting at No.4 with Rayudu at 3, an experiment that can be tried out against Australia, but logic will dictate your best batsman to bat one down.

Which brings us to 5 and 6 – Dhoni and Jadhav/Pant. Dhoni, since July 12, 2018, has scored 448 runs at 40.72, hitting a purple patch in Australia. That pretty much settles the No.5 debate. His prowess of finishing games with brute power might be on the wane, but for somebody who has 338 ODIs to his name, you might as well back the veteran to have a big final hurrah in India colours.

Pant is just three ODIs old, but has an opportunity to present a strong case for the No.6 spot in competition with Jadhav, who will have the advantage of being a bowling option as well. Man-to-man, some may want Pant at six donning the finisher’s job, but Jadhav has his experience to bank on.

The bowling line-up is fairly sorted for India with Bumrah back in and Bhuvneshwar finding his rhythm again. Siddarth Kaul, in for the first two ODIs against Australia, can only hope to travel as a backup and if he fails to seize the opportunity, Khaleel would be the one to benefit.

Shami’s return to form is particularly good news for India as he is more than just a back up to India’s leading pace duo. Out of Khaleel, Mohammed Siraj, Kaul, Shardul Thakur, Deepak Chahar and Umesh Yadav – all of whom have been tried in the last nine months – Shami stands tallest among them all.

And finally, Shankar. A late surge in to the Indian mix, the Tamil Nadu allrounder only had four ODIs – in New Zealand – to show his worth, and that seems to have been enough. It is highly unlikely that the 28-year-old will get any playing time, even against Australia, and will most probably travel as Pandya’s understudy to England.

He did not get to bowl much in the New Zealand tour, so it is tough to assess whether the Indian team is banking on him as a backup bowling option or as a batsman. Either way, Shankar is that one player who manages to find a place in India’s World Cup scheme, and for some inexplicable reason doesn’t seem an automatic choice. Hark back your memory to Mohit Sharma in 2015, Yusuf Pathan in 2011 and Robin Uthappa in 2007.

India’s predicted World cup squad: 1. Virat Kohli (capt), 2. Rohit Sharma (vc), 3. Shikhar Dhawan, 4. Ambati Rayudu, 5. MS Dhoni (wk), 6. Kedar Jadhav, 7. Hardik Pandya, 8. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 9. Kuldeep Yadav. 10. Yuzvendra Chahal, 11. Jasprit Bumrah 12. Mohammed Shami, 13. Vijay Shankar, 14. Rishabh Pant, 15. KL Rahul