The Indian selectors will be keenly watching the upcoming Indian Premier League with there being at least a couple of missing blanks before India’s squad of fifteen for the World Cup is finalised.
The selectors, as well as the team management, would be the most concerned about the No.4 position in the batting lineup as that has been one spot in the playing eleven that is far from being settled.
“The Indian team management would be a little worried because the World Cup is in England. And although the ball does not swing as much and the English summer is a lot like Indian summer, it won’t be as flat either. If the World Cup was in India maybe Ambati Rayudu would have cemented his spot.
“But if you lose two early wickets in England you need someone who has a decent technique and can help the situation. I actually think Dhoni is more suited in that sort of situation amongst the options we have,” thinks cricketer-turned-pundit Sanjay Manjrekar.
In an ideal scenario, the Indian selectors would have liked to have identified and played with the earmarked fifteen for the World Cup in the recent home series against Australia. Instead, they have been forced to play 21 players in the final 13 ODI games before the World Cup with the squad jigsaw puzzle still remaining unresolved.
“I won’t fault selectors or team management for trying so many players. In a batting country like India and in one of the easiest batting formats, no player has grabbed those opportunities. I am talking of consistency and being able to play different roles at no.4. Sometimes it could be defensive role and staging a long partnership and winning the game at the end. It’s a little disappointing they haven’t grabbed those opportunities,” Manjrekar told India Today on the eve of ESPN crininfo’s Superstats launch.
Many experts have voiced opinions on who that No.4 could be. While former chief selector Dilip Vengsarkar wants Ajinkya Rahane to bring in stability to the middle order at No.4, Saurav Ganguly has suggested Cheteshwar Pujara could be drafted in. Weighing in on the selection debate, Manjrekar went for Vijay Shankar on the strength of some of his recent showings.
“I know Rahane has played a lot of ODI cricket. Ambati Rayudu played one good knock and could not capitalize. India has great bowling and good batting class at the top but the middle order is not the same league and that will be the underbelly as we go to the World Cup. But amongst the options, I think Shankar looks the most exciting. He would be my No.4,” Manjrekar said.
The other crucial call MSK Prasad-led selection committee has to make is to pick one of Rishab Pant and Dinesh Karthik as MS Dhoni’s back up wicketkeeper-batsman. While there are some who feel Pant didn’t make the most of available opportunities and Karthik may have more to offer, Manjrekar is clear Karthik is not the man for the job in 50 overs cricket.
“Dinesh Karthik has played a lot of cricket and we know what he can and cannot do. If you give him last five or six overs and he has to hit the ball out of the park, that’s his role. That situation comes in a lot in T20 cricket but not so much in ODI cricket. And you can’t pick a player on just that ability. I don’t think he has it in him to take the team ahead to 300 after you have lost two early wickets. So he was never in my ODI team,” Manjrekar argues.
Manjrekar did choose Pant in his fifteen but is unsure if he can be the backbone of India’s middle order yet. “Pant might have that thing. But even with him I am not as excited. Not like I was when Yuvraj and Raina once were in the middle order. There is no one in the same class in terms of consistency.
“But Pant is in my squad because there is something about him. I generally get a little disappointed because of the way he gets out. But there is something about him that he is able to get the kind of numbers he has. In Test cricket, he already has two hundreds although they did not come in very competitive situations. We can’t rule him out playing a blinder of an innings at No.5 and No.6. So I think he will be there,” he predicts.
But despite the brittle middle order, Manjrekar is convinced India remains the team to beat at the World Cup, series loss to Australia notwithstanding. “India is the best team in the format in the world. A game changing bowling attack with quality spin, one of the all-time great ODI batsman (Virat Kohli) also Rohit Sharma. Just the middle order is not the same. All the other teams are not great. Only now is Australia emerging as a possible strong team. So I maintain India is the strongest team. But whether they can win the World Cup is another thing. It depends on how they will fare on the night of the semis or the finals,” Manjrekar concluded.