Dinesh Karthik and Vijay Shankar were the big inclusions in India's 15-man squad for the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup 2019, announced on Monday, 15 April.
Karthik's inclusion left no room for Rishabh Pant, the dynamic 21-year-old wicket-keeper. Karthik will compete for the No.4 spot, primarily with Tamil Nadu team-mate Vijay Shankar, who impressed in the matches leading up to the selection, and possibly KL Rahul. Apart from Pant, Ambati Rayudu was the other big absentee.
Karthik and Pant were neck-and-neck in the race for the No.4 slot, but the former's wicket-keeping skills won him the berth. "In unison, we all felt either Pant or DK will come into the XI if Mahi [Dhoni] is injured," said MSK Prasad, the chief national selector.
"If it’s a semi-final or an important game, wicket-keeping also matters. That’s the only reason we went ahead with Dinesh Karthik. Otherwise, Rishabh Pant was almost there."
The announcement narrows down the possible candidates for the No.4 spot. India tried out Pant, Rayudu, and Karthik in that role in the home and away ODI series against Australia, and in New Zealand.
KL Rahul could be another option at No.4, but Prasad said he was primarily in the squad as a reserve opener. Dhoni is also a potential occupant, as is captain Virat Kohli, but there is still no clarity on who will slot in at the World Cup. At the moment, Shankar seems to be the preferred candidate, even though he has never batted higher than No.5 for India.
“After the Champions Trophy, we tried quite a few middle-order batsmen," said Prasad. "We also tried Shreyas Iyer and Manish Pandey. We gave a few chances to Rayudu, but what Vijay Shankar offers is three-dimensional. Apart from his batting, he can bowl if the conditions are overcast, which we might encounter in England. And he’s a fantastic fielder.
"That’s what went in Shankar’s favour. He’s a batsman who can bowl. We’re looking at him at No.4 [to begin with]. With Dinesh Karthik in and Kedar Jadhav, we’ve plenty of options at No.4 right now."
Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami will be the three specialist pacers, while Hardik Pandya and Shankar take up the seam-bowling all-rounder slots. Khaleel Ahmed didn’t make the cut, which left India without a left-arm pace option.
Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal are the specialist spinners, along with Ravindra Jadeja, whose left-arm spin offers variety. "In the last one, one-and-a-half years, it’s these two wristies [Kuldeep and Chahal] who have won us games," said Prasad.
"But there might be situations where you might require an additional all-rounder in the XI, which Jadeja brings in. In the second part of the tournament, when the wickets might be a bit drier, we felt Jadeja will come in handy."
In all, India have nine players in the squad who can bowl, seven of whom could potentially make the XI. Prasad hailed the side as one of the "most balanced" India have ever had.
India begin their World Cup campaign against South Africa on 5 June in Southampton.
Squad: Virat Kohli (c), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Vijay Shankar, MS Dhoni (wk), Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami.
Content & Images: ICC