New Delhi: After a record-scripting 3-0 whitewash over Sri Lanka in the Test series, Virat Kohli-led Team India are all geared up to extend their domination over the hosts in the shorter format of the game when they lock horns for the first ODI match, at Dambulla, today. But for Team India the series comes about way different than that of their opponents. The series is more of a kick-start to their plan for World Cup 2019.
Much have been talked about ever since the Indian squad for the limited-over series against Sri Lanka had been announced. New faces were seen and old ones have missed. Why haven't Yuvraj Singh found a place in the 15-member list? Was MS Dhoni a natural pick for the selectors? – are the two questions that have been most talked about. And MSK Prasad, the chairman of selectors had made it pretty clear that the list was made keeping the 2019 Cricket World Cup in mind. And so believes the skipper.
At a recent presser in Dambulla, ahead of the first ODI against the Islanders, Virat said, "Two years to go for the World Cup and now is the time to give players certain roles to get into the groove and understand what we need to do." He rather reckons that the team is ready to accept defeat in two or more games if they need to continue with their experimentation.
Still 22 months away. And Team India seem to be all gearing up for the coveted tournament. Older choices like Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja have been rested. Reports claimed that Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina, who have long been looking to don the Indian jersey, had failed to Yo-Yo fitness test. And then there are some freash faces in the squad – Manish Pandey, Yuzvendra Chahal and a few youngsters more who will be aiming to book their tickets for England and Wales.
All eyes on Dhoni
Looking at things in a rather pragmatic way, India's chief selector MSK Prasad spoke on Dhoni's future in ODI cricket clarifying that the panel would look for alternatives if he fails to deliver.
Ever since stepping down from Test cricket after the Boxing Day match against Australia in 2014, Dhoni has been an integral part of India's ODI and T20I squad. But right after the team's campaign in England for the ICC Champions Trophy, questions were raised about his future in the team.
Virat Kohli had called him an important pillar in the Indian squad ahead of their Champions Trophy tournament, owing to the experience he brings in. Even during the campaign, Virat had said, "His inputs are always precise and very helpful at any stage of the game." However, his outing at England and then in Windies for another limited-over tour wasn't the nicest. He had notched up a 79-ball 78 that helped secure India a comprehensive win in the third game and then came the 114-ball 51 which turned out to be one of his slowest innings ever. Despite all, Prasad took him aboard for the ODI series against Lanka with a condition applied.
We don’t say it is an automatic thing (selection) but we will see. We are all stakeholders. We all want the Indian team to do well. If he is delivering, why not? If he is not, we will have to look at alternatives,” Prasad said.
"We will see, we will see. The legend that he is, we don`t want to make it... but yes we have a plan," he said, speaking about the man who had led his side to three ICC trophy victories.
He is still quick behind the stumps, holds the ability to take important decisions, is still the mastermind behind most stumpings he makes, but with the bat fingers...the days seemed to have past. How he carves his innings will surely be a thing to look at. It seems it more like a TEST series for Dhoni in the ODI campaign.
A fresh welcome and youngsters
KL Rahul, Manish Pandey, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal and Axar Patel are some on the list. Keeping 2019 Cricket World Cup in mind, players would be assigned specific roles – is what Kohli reckons and such was expressed at Dambulla, yesterday.
Talking about that middle order batting line-up, Virat confirmed KL Rahul's position, while Manish Pandey and Kedar would have to battle it out for the second slot, the third being Dhoni. The position would be basically to fill up Yuvraj Singh's shoes. Manish was indeed exceptional during the India A series and Kedar had proved his worth during the England series and then again in Champions Trophy.
"KL will definitely be playing in the middle-order. We are not going to be predictable or have a set pattern anymore in terms of what we are going to do in ODI or T20 cricket. Anyone could go anywhere. That's what we are looking to do," said the skipper.
"Someone like Manish, he has done well and has grabbed his opportunities. He has got a hundred in Australia as well, and we know about his talent and what he brings onto the field as well. He is a super fit guy and has a bright future ahead of him. So he will certainly be backed."
There are possibilities in the bowling section too. With Ashwin, Jadeja being rested, Kuldeep Yadav has high chances of playing today owing to his impressive performance in the Windies tour and then again in the Sri Lanka Test series. Above all, Virat and the selectors seem to have a special liking for wrist spinners. It is, therefore, Kuldeep along with Chahal or Axar Patel. Patel, who had scalped nine wickets in four matches in the India A series would hold an edge over Chahal, who is more of a T20 bowler.
Virat knows that his experimentation would bring about criticisms, but he is "ready to embrace challenges."
Chance of a comeback
Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, and then Suresh Raina are the ones on the list. Reports claimed that Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina, who have long waited to mark an ODI comeback, failed to pass the Yo-Yo fitness test. However, Prasad used the word 'rested' to describe Yuvraj's exclusion.
The southpaw was also one of the 'pillars' of the Champions Trophy squad, as said by Virat. A middle order specialist, Yuvraj has long been an integral part of India's limited-over team. He did find his name for the Windies tour, but was eventually left out ahead of the fourth match making way for Dinesh Karthik, owing to a hamstring injury.
For Suresh Raina and Harbhajan, a comeback seems bleak. Both had played their last ODI game back in 2015 and since then have failed to don the Indian jersey once again. Raina did play the T20 series against England earlier this year and fans also expected his comeback.
It is all up to the selectors now. Chance of a comeback for them would not only mean to be fit again but also for them to expect that the present lot fails to deliver up to the expected level.