The Rubik’s Cube of India’s ODI squad

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18 Dec 2021 | 05:22 AM
authorShubh Aggarwal

The Rubik’s Cube of India’s ODI squad

A look at the challenges in front of the selectors ahead of announcing the squad for ODIs in South Africa

It has been a while since ODI cricket has been relevant. India played only six ODIs in 2021 across two series. The second of these featured a second string squad. In the context of white-ball cricket, the focus was on the preparations for back to back T20 World Cups. Now, with one of the two editions behind them and the next ODI World Cup less than two years away, 50-over cricket is coming back to prominence. The first hint was Rohit Sharma replacing Virat Kohli as the ODI skipper. Naming a successor who is older than the incumbent captain fulfills only one logic - eyes at the next silverware. 

The ODI series in South Africa will be India’s first preparatory step towards that trophy. Before the players, it's the selectors who will be in the hot seat with their picks for the squad. It won’t be an easy task given multiple options for each spot. It is a happy headache but still remains a pain they need to crash. 

The openers

The opening slots will be the toughest nut to crack for the selectors. A combination of India’s rich batting depth and opening being the optimum position to bat in limited-overs cricket has thrown plenty of options.

Considering Rohit Sharma will be fit in time and KL Rahul will continue to bat in the middle-order, there are only two slots available including that of a back-up opener. The options are four. 

It is easy to forget Shikhar Dhawan’s candidacy as Rohit’s partner. He is 36 years old. He last played for India in July. He is not among the Top 10 run-scorers in the ongoing Vijay Hazare Trophy. But while Dhawan is not a part of the T20I side, ODIs remain to be his strongest suit. His place in the format has never been in doubt. Dhawan has averaged above 50 in the format for the past two years and the last time his strike-rate went below 90 was in 2015. Hence, omitting him for his age and overlooking his form might look shallow.

The other two candidates include Mayank Agarwal and Prithvi Shaw, both of whom made their ODI debut together as openers in February, 2020. Mayank played two more ODIs later that year when Rohit Sharma was unavailable. Since then, he fell behind and got himself back into reckoning with strong performances in the IPL and showing his mastery against spin in the Mumbai Test. Then there is Shaw who was picked for the Sri Lanka series after a record-breaking Vijay Hazare season in the 2020/21 edition (827 runs averaging 165.4). Surely he should be considered again.

But wait, Ruturaj Gaikwad has done the same this season. He has four hundreds in five innings. With 603 runs at an average of 150.8, he is 224 runs ahead of anyone else at the point of writing this. He was also the Orange Cap winner in IPL 2021. Therefore, the selectors face a dilemma between the recent record and the pecking order. 

Wicketkeepers

Rishabh Pant is expected to continue as the incumbent wicketkeeper with Ishan Kishan as a back-up. Rahul can keep wickets as well. Where does it place Sanju Samson who made his ODI debut in Sri Lanka? Is there any chance for KS Bharat? He is agonizingly close to a Test debut, has done his bit in the IPL and is the third highest run-scorer in the Vijay Hazare Trophy at present.

Spin options

Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel’s unavailability has trimmed down the options in the spin department. After T20Is, Ravichandran Ashwin will return to ODI cricket as well in all likelihood. On the contrary, there is a decision to be made on Varun Chakravarthy’s knees, whether they can bear the load of 50-over cricket or not. 

However, the biggest question will be if the selectors can fit two swords into one sheath. The weaponry in question here is the leg-spin of Yuzvendra Chahal and Rahul Chahar. The latter replaced the former in India’s T20 World Cup squad but played only one game. 

Chahal has since proved his artistry with the white-ball, first in the second half of IPL 2021 and then in the Vijay Hazare Trophy where he is the highest wicket-taker with 14 wickets in only five matches. In the same time, Chahar’s stocks have gone down. Hence, the 31-year old might take precedence for the wrist-spinner’s lot. But the dearth in spin bowling options can persuade the selectors to pick both the leggies which will be an interesting situation. 

The pace battery

The selection of the pace battery is subjected to the anticipated workload of the pacers during the Test series. Jasprit Bumrah and/or Mohammad Shami might be rested owing to the same. Having said that, Mohammad Siraj has also played a fair bit of cricket in the second half of 2021. Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s chances will rest on his fitness. 

This makes candidates like Deepak Chahar, Prasidh Krishna and Harshal Patel almost a certainty in the squad. There is a possibility of seeing Avesh Khan too who is long due for an international cap. Once again, the options are plenty. But this is the only department which might not be about choosing the best available personnel.

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India tour of South Africa, 2021/22IndiaShikhar DhawanRohit SharmaRuturaj GaikwadMayank AgarwalPrithvi ShawDeepak ChaharRahul ChaharYuzvendra ChahalVarun ChakravarthyJasprit BumrahMohammed SirajMohammed ShamiHarshal PatelAvesh Khan

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