India vs West Indies: Will selectors turn to Rishabh Pant with World Cup looming?
Rishabh Pant could break into India's ODI squad for the West Indies series. @Getty

The names of Rishabh Pant and Shreyas Iyer promise to be focal points when the BCCI selectors meet in Hyderabad on Thursday to select the Indian squad for five ODIs versus West Indies. With four months left before teams have to submit their squads for the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup in England, India are still struggling to identify their middle order, a reserve wicketkeeper and third opener for next summer’s showpiece event.

Kedar Jadhav’s latest injury and MS Dhoni’s scratchy performances in the recent Asia Cup, coupled with Dinesh Karthik’s poor form, could force the MSK Prasad-led selection committee to look at Pant and Iyer as middle-order options for the West Indies series starting October 21 in Guwahati. India do not play ODIs again until January, after four Tests in Australia, and these five games versus West Indies offer the selectors and team management a good opportunity to see what Pant, who recently broke into the Test team, and Iyer have to offer.

The No 4 conundrum, in particular, has been a worry for India. Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina, Manish Pandey, Yuvraj Singh, Karthik, Dhoni, Hardik Pandya and Jadhav have all been batted at No 4 over the past two years but none has been locked in.

Pant, 21, has not played ODIs but scores of 114 and 92 in successive Test matches have upped his stock as an international player. India’s search for middle-order options and a viable reserve wicketkeeper have seen them go back to Karthik several times, but the 33-year-old has not been able to hold down his spot. Karthik scored 33, 31*, 1*, 44 and 37 during India’s Asia Cup triumph. Not bad, but also not good enough to suggest he can cut it at the World Cup next year. Dhoni managed scores of 0, 33, 8 and 36 in the Asia Cup to add to a year in which he has made 225 runs in 10 ODI innings at a strike-rate of 67.36.

Shreyas Iyer could earn a recall in Kedar Jadhav's absence
Shreyas Iyer could earn a recall in Kedar Jadhav’s absence. @AFP

Iyer has scores of 56*, 110 and 114 in three successive Vijay Hazare Trophy innings and 61 off 64 balls versus the touring West Indians in a practice game recently. He played the last of his six ODIs in February.

Ambati Rayudu can expect to keep his place after scoring 175 runs in six games during the Asia Cup. With Virat Kohli  slotting back, Rayudu can drop down a spot to No 4 and try to make that place his own before the World Cup. A fairly assured run in the UAE recently would have given him confidence, and this series could be huge for Rayudu.

Regarding the search for a third opener, KL Rahul would appear the logical choice but should the selectors instead opt to rest him keeping in mind the Australia tour, there is an outside chance that the uncapped Mayank Agarwal  gets the nod as reserve opener. Agarwal, 27, is currently part of India’s Test squad in Hyderabad and being an opener by trade, could possibly break into the ODI scheme.

Not having a fixed spot in ODIs has added to Rahul’s frustration, as he admitted during the Asia Cup, and how he slots in with Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli and Rayudu looking the top four, with Dhoni at No 5, is tough to comprehend.

Like Rahul, Pandey got just one game each in the Asia Cup. It is foreseeable that the selectors see these five ODIs as one final chance for the Karnataka batsman to make a case for the World Cup.

With Pandya injured, Ravindra Jadeja should easily keep his place after making a successful comeback to the ODI squad in the Asia Cup. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah, rested for the Tests, are likely to feature after some impressive bowling in the Asia Cup. Rajasthan seamer Khaleel Ahmed, who impressed in the UAE, and Siddarth Kaul should also keep their places.

Likely ODI squad: Virat Kohli (capt), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, MS Dhoni (wk), Ambati Rayudu, KL Rahul, Manish Pandey/Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Khaleel Ahmed, Siddarth Kaul