After a comprehensive ODI series triumph against England, the Indian caravan has now moved to the Caribbean, for a totally different kind of challenge. There is no Rishabh Pant to do the heavy lifting, no Jasprit Bumrah to make early inroads, and no Hardik Pandya to arrest the collapse. They will also be without captain Rohit Sharma, and former captain Virat Kohli. All of them have been rested for the ODI series.
This allows the Indian team to test out their bench strength, and also address the missing link in the puzzle for the ODI World Cup next year. But even in the absence of these regular players, the competition to cut into playing XI is intense, and if the early days of Rahul Dravid are anything to go by, it’s unlikely you’ll see all of them getting game-time during the three-match series.
Against Ireland, Dravid stuck with the same team for all five games of the series, paying no heed to worldly noise screaming to test the promising stars, fresh from their heroics in the IPL.
But there are some choices to be made that will decide how India’s full-strength ODI XI stacks up in the near future.
Ishan Kishan, Ruturaj Gaikwad, and Shubman Gill are three contenders, and each of them boasts of solid credentials. Since India have been grooming Ishan Kishan as a back-up opener for quite some time now, he is ahead of others in the pecking order. Kishan had to warm the bench in the ODI series against England, as Rohit Sharma was reunited with Shikhar Dhawan.
But playing Kishan disrupts the left-right combination, and this is where Gill and Gaikwad come into the picture. Gaikwad is yet to make his ODI debut but has shown his potential in domestic cricket, where he has been averaging over 54 after 63 innings. Last year, Gaikwad struck four centuries and amassed over 600 runs in just five innings.
Shubman Gill has returned to the ODI side after 18 months. He hasn’t played ODI cricket at any level of late, but was in fine form during the IPL, in which he scored over 400 runs at a strike rate of 132. Gill is arguably the most versatile young batter in the country, technically adept against the spinners and possesses a good base against the pacer.
As spinners usually dominate proceedings on slow and insipid pitches of the Caribbean, it makes sense to have someone like Gill in the side, whose game against spin is unparalleled, or maybe second only to Shreyas Iyer.
Deepak Hooda’s value has risen by leaps and bounds in the last few months. After a breakthrough IPL season, where he scored 451 runs at the top order, Hooda translated his form to the international stage as well. He scored his maiden T20I century against Ireland last month. Other than being a prolific hitter against spinners, Hooda is a great bowling option as well, capable of chipping out a few silent overs in the middle phase.
Axar Patel is another option, but it’s unlikely he’ll cut into the playing XI after Hooda’s recent performances. Patel is a more consistent bowler than Hooda but his batting leaves a lot to be desired. Thus, playing Patel will come at the cost of reduced batting prowess.
As far as fast-bowling all-rounders go, Shardul Thakur is the only option, but If India plays three pacers, he is unlikely to get into the side.
Suryakumar Yadav is an automatic selection here, leaving Sanju Samson, Shreyas Iyer, and Deepak Hooda fighting for two places. However, if India decide to play Gill, but not as an opener, the competition gets even stiffer. In the absence of Virat Kohli, Gill seems a natural replacement, given the way he constructs the innings.
Against England, Shreyas Iyer, played at No.3 in the first ODI but lost his place when Kohli returned to the side. Not long ago, Iyer was seen as the next big thing in the white-ball side, but a shoulder injury hampered his progress, and he has struggled to reach the same heights again. His weakness against the short ball is well-documented and will be exploited by the Windies pacers.
As harsh as it may sound, Sanju Samson will have to wait again to get his chance. Moreover, ODI is not even his strongest suit, and thus, he is unlikely to get a chance unless someone from the middle-order fails in consecutive innings.
Mohammed Siraj did well in the only ODI he played against England, taking two early wickets to set up the foundation for India. In the absence of Bumrah, the onus will be on him to spearhead the pace attack. Similarly, Yuzvendra Chahal, the senior spinner, will be leading the spin department, along with Jadeja. If India plays Shardul Thakur to increase their batting depth, there will be a one-way race between Prasidh Krishna, Arshdeep Singh, and Avesh Khan.
Prasidh may get a nod ahead of others, since he did well in the last series against West Indies. Moreover, his ability to hit the deck harder provides another edge to the pace attack. Only if India play three pacers, Avesh Khan and Arshdeep Singh will come into the mix.
The resurgence of Hardik Pandya has already solved too many problems for India. The series against England reiterated that India doesn’t have another fast-bowling all-rounder at Pandya’s level. After a long time, Pandya was able to bowl consistently in the excess of 135kmph, and finished the series with six wickets, second only to Jasprit Bumrah and Yuzvendra Chahal.
In the last match of the series, he forged a crucial stand with Rishabh Pant, and slammed 72 off just 55 deliveries. But given his injury issues in the past, India needs a perfect backup for Pandya. Their experiment with Venkatesh Iyer, who was drafted into the Indian side after just a handful of good performances, didn’t pan out as planned. Their next hope lies in Shardul Thakur. The sluggish pitches of the Caribbean will be relished by Thakur, who can use his knuckle-ball and other variations to deceive the batters. But can he contribute with the bat as well?
Featured Image Credit: Virat Kohli/Twitter