Another squad announcement in Indian cricket and another set of takeaways. The three-match ODI series against Australia is the last time the Men in Blue will come together as a unit before their World Cup journey kicks off.
On one hand, England and South Africa fielded their full-strength squads in their final preparatory series before the showpiece event (against New Zealand and Australia, respectively). However, India have opted to preserve their leading players, announcing two sets of squads - one to test their bench strength further in the first two ODIs and the other to give the primary squad a go in the final ODI in Rajkot.
The selection clears one thing - there is a chance we can witness at least one change in India’s World Cup squad before September 28, i.e., the final date of finalising the squads for all participating nations. Here are the major takeaways from India’s squad to face Australia next week.
A form check please, Shreyas Iyer
Shreyas Iyer missed a couple of matches in the Asia Cup due to the recurrence of his back problems. In his absence, KL Rahul and Ishan Kishan shone in their middle-order duties. While Iyer was expected to have a seamless entry back in the XI whenever available for selection, Rahul and Kishan’s form has created some pressure on Iyer.
The Mumbaikar is one of the few Indian players expected to play all three one-dayers. He should still be a certainty in the World Cup squad (if fully fit) but may fall behind in the pecking order if runs don’t show up in these games. In that regard, Iyer has to prove himself one more time, both on grounds of form and fitness.
Who will be the spin-bowling all-rounder?
Ravichandran Ashwin has been called back to the ODI squad after 18 months. It has sparked a debate about who will be India’s spin-bowling all-rounder at the World Cup. Ravindra Jadeja, despite his struggles with the bat of late, is appointed as the vice-captain for the first two ODIs which locks him for the World Cup as well. Axar Patel was initially selected as the other finger spinner but a bruised quadricep has forced India to explore backups.
The squad for the third ODI contains 17 members. It reflects the World Cup squad with two additional spin-bowling all-round options to look for Axar’s backup - Ashwin and Washington Sundar. Axar’s inclusion in the third ODI is subject to fitness.
Is there a chance that India will look past Axar even if he is fit to add an off-spin option up their sleeves? The chief selector, Ajit Agarkar, answered against it after announcing the team.
“I don't think there is the need to speculate right now or make any decisions right now because we are hoping that Axar is fit,” said Agarkar when asked about the situation.
In any case, the first two games could showcase a good battle between Ashwin and Sundar.
Who opens with Gill?
With Rohit Sharma rested for two ODIs, India are set to have a different opening pair. Such was the discourse around Ishan Kishan, the middle-order batter that it is easy to forget that he is also a backup for the opener’s role. Ruturaj Gaikwad is the other specialist opener in the 15-man squad for the first two matches. However, the management would want to lend Kishan more game time, for which Gaikwad may have to warm the bench. The left-hander should play one, if not both games, as Shubman Gill’s opening partner.
Meanwhile, Tilak Varma should continue at number three after his debut versus Bangladesh. He is presumed to be drafted into India’s World Cup squad if any batter is injured. Hence, the management wants to keep him in the loop.
Where does this leave Samson?
It is tough to be Sanju Samson at the moment. India have three active squads - two for the ODI series against Australia and one for the upcoming Asian Games. Samson is a part of neither. Not long back, he was in contention for a spot in the World Cup squad. In 13 ODI innings, the 28-year-old averages 55.7 at a strike-rate of 104. Now, it is clear that he is not in the selector’s vision for the World Cup, at least.
It won’t be accurate to say that Samson has proven himself given his low sample size and inconsistent nature. However, it is also unfortunate that despite dropping enough hints of his potential, he is part of none of the three squads at present. Tilak's secondary skillset and Suryakumar Yadav's T20 brilliance have leapfrogged the Kerala batter in the main squad while he is not considered for the Asian games.
Will he be in the selector's vision for the upcoming silverware? Only time will tell.