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All set for the Carribean

Patriot takes a look at the recently announced India squad for the tour in West Indies, analysing the key takeaways from it

India’s exit from the semifinals of the ICC World Cup 2019, after a dramatic loss to New Zealand by 18 runs – has raised many a question among Indian supporters about the state of the team. The team, which was touted as favourites to win the tournament, could not defend a meagre target of 240.

With this setback in mind, Indian chief selector MSK Prasad announced the team for the first series after this World Cup – an away series vs the West Indies – consisting of two tests, three ODIs and two T20s. This, according to experts, is the first step in building the team for the three upcoming challenges: the 2020 T20 World Cup, the World Test Championships and the 2023 World Cup.

Here, we discuss the inclusions and exclusions in the squad, and who could have made the cut but were overlooked by selectors.

The openers

India’s biggest strength in the batting order in their limited overs exploits has been the opening combination of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma. The latter has been on a golden run in the World Cup having scored 647 runs including five centuries, and Dhawan too was looking in great shape before he got sidelined with an injury to his thumb.

But in spite of his injury, Dhawan has been included in the T20 and ODI squads, as doctors have declared him fit to play.

While the opening dup for the limited overs seem set, it is in the Test arena that India have a bit of a headache with this position. With Prithvi Shaw being sidelined by an injury in the Australia series last year, Mayank Agarwal rose to the occasion and scored 195 runs.

in two matches Down Under. This included a 76 in his debut innings, the highest by an Indian on debut in Australia. If Agarwal hits the ground hard, and scores a bulk of runs against a relatively weak Windies bowling attack, he just might cement his place as a Test specialist opener.

Partnering Agarwal, will most probably be KL Rahul, who too had a World Cup to remember. Rahul’s test records however, are not that much to boast of, as in the last Australia series as he scored just 47 runs at an average of just over 11. For Rahul, this can be a way to prove his place in the Test squad.

Waiting in the wings is another Test specialist opener Hanuma Vihari, who has had a better Australia series than Rahul, scoring 111 runs at an average of 22. But what Vihari brings to the table is an extra bowling option.

India’s test opening partnership in the recent future – Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan have both been omitted from the squad owing to poor performances in the past year or so. With these players seemingly out of the Test picture, it will be a test for these youngsters to shine and cement their place in the squad.

Prithvi Shaw seems like an exclusion from the squad, but as MSK Prasad said, he is still recovering from his hip injury and hence has not been included in the squad. So, in the absence of so many players, it is time for Agarwal, Rahul and Vihari to shine

Captain Kohli’s litmus test

There were strong speculations that Virat Kohli might be rested for the upcoming tour, considering the Windies are not as strong as say an Australia or England. But, that is not the case. Kohli has been picked for all three formats and this might just be his test as a captain.

The great batsman that he already is, Kohli’s captaincy has been called for questioning, after dismal performances by his teams in high pressure situations – as evident on both international and IPL colours.

A thumping series win in all formats vs a resurgent Windies side might just prove to be the perfect answer to all his doubters. Kohli’s sublime batting however, is perhaps the biggest strength in the men in blues’ batting line up.

The middle muddle

The Indian middle order has been what many consider to be the men in blues’ major weakness in white ball cricket. Especially the number four spot. In the World Cup, we saw three different players being adjusted in that same slot of number four. What India desperately lacks is the calmness and stability at the middle that can guide the lower middle order and build an innings.

The inclusion of two players in particular – namely Shreyas Iyer and Manish Pandey can solve this exact same problem. Both these players have the mental frame of mind to carry the team and take responsibility to bat through the innings, while also possessing the ability to hit the balls for fours and sixes when needed. With Rayudu retired, and Kedar Jadhav was underperforming, both these players can make the batting line up and if they perform well, they can be the mainstays of the Indian middle order for years to come.

While the middle order seems a problem in limited overs, India perhaps has the best middle order in the world when it comes to Tests. With Pujara, Kohli, Rahane and Rohit Sharma coming in at 3,4,5 and 6 respectively, bowlers will find it extremely difficult to pitch in the right line and length to these modern-day batting stalwarts.

The surprise exclusion here is definitely Shubman Gill. Having scored so many runs in both domestic and List A competitions, MSK Prasad said, that he is in the “waiting list” because of his age. Former cricketers like Sourav Ganguly and Gautam Gambhir have expressed displeasure at the exclusion of Gill, and Gill himself has tweeted out his disappointment at not being selected for the squad vs West Indies.

Change of guard

Another big talking point of the World Cup has been the form of MS Dhoni and massive talk on how old age has caught up to him and it is time for his retirement. Well, the Indian stalwart wicketkeeper has not been selected for either the one day or T20 squads after he made himself unavailable for the series.

In the absence of Dhoni, it is Rishabh Pant who takes the responsibility of the man behind the stumps in all three formats of the game. While Pant has been a mainstay of the test format for long no, he will be the first choice keeper in the ODIs and T20s for the first time.

Pant still needs a little brushing up to do on his wicketkeeping skills, but his big hitting ability makes him an ideal batsman to have in the late middle order in white ball cricket. His skills come more than handy in the Test format too, after his stupendous performances with the bat vs Australia including that blistering 159.

While he has no back up specialist keeper in the limited overs squad, Wriddhiman Saha comes back to the Test squad after 19 long months. Saha is technically the best wicketkeeper in India, but it is poor batting performances in national colours that makes him a second option to Pant.

Spinning allrounders

India’s chief spin twins – Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav-have had a World Cup to forget, and they have somehow gone down the pecking order. While Chahal has only been selected for the ODI’s, Kuldeep has been left out for the T20’s making the Test and ODI side.

What the selectors have given importance too is players who can add quality to the lower batting order of the side. If we see the T20 selections – Ravindra Jadeja, Washington Sundar, Krunal Pandya and Rahul Chahar- these are all proper all-rounders who can tonk the ball. Not only do they strengthen India’s bowling but also gives depth to their batting.

Even in tests we have Jadeja an Ashwin, two players who both have test centuries to their name. And with the kind of form he showed in the semifinal vs New Zeland, Jadeja defineltely gets a spot in the ODI Xi.

Rahul Chahar, the young 19-year-ol leg spinner has been the surprise pick in the squad, but looking at the 2023 world cup he can be a viable option for the team in the future.

The pace battery

If there has been one area where India doesn’t’ need any improvement at all, whatever the format – it is their extraordinary pace bowling line up. Jasprit Bumrah has been given a rest in the limited overs side, the department has able leaders in Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami backed by young guns like Khaleel Ahmed and Navdeep Saini who have been making headlines in the domestic circuit

In the Test matches you have Jasprit Bumrah leading the attack with Mohammad Shami, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav making up a formidable pace quartet.