5 Indian Players With World Cup Stakes to Claim Against Australia

It’s India’s final assignment ahead of the ICC World Cup 2019 – and spots remain up for grabs in the 15-man roster.

6 min read
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‘Judgement Day’ looms large.

By 23 April, the BCCI will have named the 15 men tasked with carrying out India’s bid for a third world title at the ICC World Cup 2019, beginning in England on 30 May.

Seven matches – two T20Is and five ODIs against Australia – are all that’s left for any fine-tuning to the unit, with Australia’s limited overs tour to India being the final assignment for Team India ahead of the World Cup.

Chief Selector MSK Prasad has stated that 18 players are in contention for a ticket to the United Kingdom, and the squads announced for the two series have indicated the spots for which the race enters its final stretch.

Here’s a look at five Indian players for whom there is much at stake during Australia’s limited overs tour of India.


1. KL Rahul

It’s been a tumultuous last six months for KL Rahul, but the team management has stuck its neck out for the top-order batsman. Now is the final chance to repay the faith.

While the long rope accorded to him as a Test opener has been based in glimpses of real substance through a four-year long international career, the persistence in shorter formats is based more on expectation than evidence.

Rahul in ODIs: 13 matches, 317 runs, average 35.22, strike rate 80.66.

Of those runs, 196 came in his debut series: a three-match contest against Zimbabwe in 2016, where India fielded a highly experimental squad.

Remove the runs in Zimbabwe, and Rahul’s ODI career reads 121 runs at an average of 15.12 and a strike rate of 72.02. Only once in these nine innings has he crossed 50 – against Afghanistan at the Asia Cup in September 2018.

More worryingly, his returns in the middle-order – for which he could be considered a back-up option in the squad – are less than ordinary. After opening the batting in his first six ODI innings, Rahul has come in at numbers 3/4/5 in the next six.

KL Rahul’s scores when not opening in ODIs: 4, 17, 7, 9*, 0, 60.

The argument in favour of the right-hander is that he is the best-available opening back-up to consider for the World Cup squad, a claim boosted by his sensational run of form in IPL 2018, where he smashed 659 runs at an average touching 55 (and a strike rate just under 160) from the top of the order for Kings XI Punjab.


2. Rishabh Pant

If Rahul has the backing of the team management, Rishabh Pant, it would appear, has the majority of a cricket-crazy community rooting for his selection.

Contrary to seemingly popular opinion on social media, Pant will not be taking MS Dhoni’s place in the Indian ODI setup – not for the World Cup, at least – but he has built a case to be picked as the back-up wicketkeeper, and, perhaps more vitally, a middle-order dasher.

A bit similarly to Rahul, the push for Pant is more rooted in perception than performance at the international stage.

Pant in ODIs & T20Is: 16 matches, 270 runs, average 19.29, strike rate 125.58.

The absence of someone to play the mad-dash game-changing innings towards the back-end of the innings – with the exception of Hardik Pandya – is what boosts the 21-year-old’s case. According to 2011 WC winner Ashish Nehra, Pant’s big-hitting ability is second only to Rohit Sharma among current Indian batsmen.
It’s India’s final assignment ahead of the ICC World Cup 2019 – and spots remain up for grabs in the 15-man roster.
Rishabh Pant is being backed to make India’s World Cup squad – despite having played only three ODIs.
(Photo: BCCI)

But the idea of Pant being effective in the slog overs is based on his exceptional record in T20 cricket: 1948 runs at an average of 34.78, and a strike rate in excess of 162.

Pant in IPL 2018: 684 runs, average 52.61, strike rate 173.60, one 100, five 50s.

His shot at replicating that success in ODI colours comes now, with the selectors having assured a lengthy run against Australia.


3. Dinesh Karthik

Yes, he’s not even part of the ODI squad. But MSK Prasad quite clearly indicated that he isn’t out of the World Cup mix, suggesting the selectors wanted to give an equal chance to Pant before taking a final call – and Dinesh Karthik can make that decision even tougher to take with more runs in the two-match T20I series.

It is, by a distance, the format Karthik has enjoyed more in recent times, evidenced by an average of 58 and a strike rate of 157.60 in 16 T20I innings since the start of 2017.

That isn’t to say the 33-year-old has not been good in the 50-over game in the same time-period.

Karthik in ODIs since 2017: 17 innings, 425 runs, average 47.22, strike rate 75.22.

The strike rate does read more 1999 than 2019, but even still, Karthik’s exclusion has been judged to be harsh from most quarters.

Experience is the factor firmly in his favour, if it comes to a straight shootout between him and Pant; a couple of typically ‘busy’ cameos in the T20Is, if not better, will only serve to strengthen his case.


4. Vijay Shankar

Vijay Shankar’s inclusion in all the squads for the home series against Australia is a big shot in the arm to the 28-year-old’s hopes of a maiden World Cup berth.

Solid outings with the bat in New Zealand helped Shankar boost his credentials – he scored 45 after coming in to bat with the team at 18/4 (batting for the first time in ODIs), and followed it up with six-laden cameos in the three-match T20I series.

An all-rounder by definition, he can, however, hold a stitch against the team management for his limited usage as a bowler.

Shankar in ODIs: 4 matches, 16 overs, 0 wickets, economy 4.87.

It’s India’s final assignment ahead of the ICC World Cup 2019 – and spots remain up for grabs in the 15-man roster.
Vijay Shankar has showed glimpsed of potential with the bat in a nascent international career, but remains under-utilised with the ball by India.
(Photo: AP)

In a small sample size, Shankar hasn’t been aided by multiple dropped catches off his bowling, but has a more-than-acceptable economy rate at under five per over.

What supports Shankar’s cause is that he – on paper – fits two roles: a back-up middle-order batsman, as well as an additional seam-bowling option.

With the upcoming contest against Australia a time for trial-and-error, he can expect to be handed the ball a lot more often. If he performs half-decently, Shankar will have put himself in pole position for a World Cup ticket.


5. Siddarth Kaul

The last entry on this list could also have been Umesh Yadav, but Siddarth Kaul’s selection for both the T20Is and the ODIs clearly suggests he is ahead in the pecking order (Kaul is in the squad for the first two matches, before Bhuvneshwar Kumar returns from his break for the last three ODIs).

It’s also the unlikeliest spot to actually fall through, and dependant on the contender above not performing.

Do India really need a fourth out-and-out fast bowler in their 15-man squad, given that they will have at least one extra seam-bowling option in Hardik Pandya (and two if Shankar makes the final cut)?

If the answer to that question is yes (which appears highly unlikely to this author), Kaul would desperately want his T20 numbers, particularly from the last two editions of the IPL, to follow him to the ODI circuit.

Kaul in ODIs: 3 matches, 27 overs, 0 wickets, economy 6.62.

Kaul in IPL 2017 & 2018: 27 matches, 37 wickets, average 22.89, economy 8.33.

Umesh Yadav, the rank outsider in the mix, boasts greater experience, in ODIs in general, as well as at the World Cup – he has 106 wickets in one-dayers, and was the third-highest wicket-taker at the 2015 World Cup (18 wickets, economy 4.98).

But two T20 internationals, against an Australian side with enough big-hitters in the mix, might not be enough for the 31-year-old Vidarbha pacer to press his claims.

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