Amit Mishra © PTI
Amit Mishra has been a regular part of the Indian ODI side for over a year now © PTI

With Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja firmly placed in the Indian One-Day International (ODI) eleven, Akshar Patel and Amit Mishra have their task cut-out. The five ODIs against Sri Lanka would be crucial in deciding India’s back-up spinner for the ICC World Cup 2015, writes Nishad Pai Vaidya.

How many spinners would MS Dhoni want in his 15-member squad for the ICC World Cup 2015? Given that the big event would be played Down Under, where wickets aid the pacers more than the spinners, one wouldn’t emphasise too much on spin. However, the big grounds in Australia can often work to a spinner’s advantage. But with the long tour to Australia in store, followed by the World Cup, India have the chance to try out as many spinners in this home series before boarding the flight for the gruelling assignments.

For the One-Day Internationals (ODIs) against the West Indies, India had drafted in uncapped Chinaman Kuldeep Yadav, and the experienced Amit Mishra. Ravichandran Ashwin was given a breather for the series, while Akshar Patel was called up later. For the Sri Lanka series, Kuldeep goes out without a look-in and Ashwin is back. The others retain their spots. This gives India four spinners in their side and plenty to pick and choose from. The five ODIs will give them a good idea about their ideal combination.

For starters, one would acknowledge the fact that Ashwin and Jadeja are fixtures in the side. In tandem, they have formed a good combination wherein they not only break the momentum in the middle overs but also pick up crucial wickets. Ashwin is the leading spinner and India’s first choice after Harbhajan Singh fell out of favour in 2011. On the other hand, Jadeja’s batting gives him the advantage as he is the all-rounder who bats at No. 7 and bowls his full quota. This duo should sail through to the World Cup squad, barring form or fitness issues.

So, the race is for the third spinner — a berth that may or may not be allotted for the big event. With Jadeja being the all-rounder, India get to play around with their side. They could gamble and pick the extra fast bowler or the back-up batsman. Perhaps they may even select a second wicketkeeper, as an understudy to Dhoni. That makes Akshar and Mishra’s task a bit tougher as they hold on to their World Cup hopes.

Mishra has been in the Indian plans for over a year. Ashwin and Jadeja’s presence has kept him on the bench and his opportunities have been few and far between. He has made his opportunities count though — he India’s dominant bowler during the tour to Zimbabwe last year, masterminded a few victories for India at the ICC World T20 2014 and most recently, bowled a crucial spell to get India back in the series against the West Indies.

While Mishra is ahead of Akshar in the pecking order, he is under some pressure. Akshar was picked for the Dharamsala ODI and did a good job. One isn’t sure how many spinners India would be willing to pick in the ODIs against Sri Lanka. If they decide to pick a third, the tussle between Akshar and Mishra would be an interesting one. They would know that each game would count if they are to make it to the World Cup squad. The winner of this race should be picked for the tri-series Down Under and would play the big event in all likelihood. It would be next to impossible for the other to come back then.

Complete coverage of Sri Lanka tour of India 2014

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_45)