India vs New Zealand: MSK Prasad and Co’s promising selections fraught with hasty exclusions

The selectors have named a relatively expected squad for India, comprising of familiar names, with a few others introduced on the pretext of ‘rotation’.

Cricket - India v Australia - Third One Day International Match - Indore, India – September 24, 2017 – Indian players celebrate the dismissal of Australia's David Warner. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi - RC166ED2C5F0

The ICC approved a Test Championship and an ODI league in a revolutionary move during the recent body meeting at Auckland, which effectively means that the number of context-less Tests and ODIs will be heavily curtailed once the programme gets underway.

Unfortunately, this isn’t happening until 2019 and India are set to continue their string of subcontinental series’ with New Zealand being the latest victims arriving at the den of the insatiable Indians.

Indian cricket team. Reuters

Indian cricket team. Reuters

With a 4-1 drubbing of Australia, India have stamped their authority yet again in the ODIs and as New Zealand set foot for a three-match fifty-over series starting on 22 October, Indian selectors have named a relatively expected squad, comprising of familiar names, with a few others introduced on the pretext of ‘rotation’.

Here we take a glance at some of the important decisions taken by MSK Prasad and Co when naming the team for the three One Day Internationals against the Kiwis.

The unsolvable mathematics equation – the No 4 spot in the Indian ODI squad

The No 4 spot is once again in the spotlight with the selectors preferring to drop Lokesh Rahul, one of the contenders for the controversial position. He is replaced by Dinesh Karthik, who has been a figure of consistency in the Duleep Trophy — 291 runs at 72.75 including two centuries — and has grabbed whatever little opportunity comes his way. It is only fair that the wicketkeeper-batsman, forever sidelined to the fringes, gets a fair run.

But it makes the very same selection committee’s decision to play Rahul at No 4 in the Sri Lankan series strange. Rahul is a natural opener and would have been an ideal back-up opening batsman. Instead the selectors sought to drop Rahul to No 4 and trial him against the old ball — never his forte — and paid the price.

He did not get a game against the Aussies and oddly finds himself out of the 15. Not only did they dent his confidence but also never backed his strengths. “Karthik’s inclusion is a reward for the runs he has been scoring,” a BCCI official had told ESPNcricinfo. “There is no particular reason behind Rahul’s omission because Ajinkya Rahane has done well as an opener. He (Rahul) will play Board President’s XI or the Ranji Trophy. What’s the point in him just being in the squad and not playing? We will see how it goes as far as his batting position is concerned. Because, as of now, this is the best combination.”

Apparently this wasn’t the situation a month back when Rahul was assigned the No 4 position by MSK Prasad. “We are going to try out KL Rahul at No 4 in this series. He is too good a player to sit out”, Prasad had said prior to the Sri Lankan ODIs. The latter half of that sentence is quite interesting since Rahul is no longer in the 15-member squad.

Now, Manish Pandey, Hardik Pandya and Karthik would be playing musical chair for the No 4 spot during the New Zealand series.

The reserve wicketkeeper

There was hue and cry at one time for Rishabh Pant, the exciting under-19 player who set the Ranji Trophy alight in his maiden First-Class season. However, a string of low scores for India ‘A’ means that the Delhi wicket-keeper was once again kept out in favour of veteran Karthik.

Karthik has enjoyed some prolific form in List ‘A’ cricket for the past couple of years and deserves another glance in India’s limited-overs team, especially with his ability to play the situation pretty well. The selectors have gone for experience over youth with this selection and have also thought over Karthik’s capability to fulfill the controversial middle-order spot, which is in all fairness, a pretty good decision, although Pant remains the ‘future’.

What is ‘rotation’ for the Indian selectors?

“We have 22 to 24-25 players in mind. We will be rotating them and we will see how they progress. After a certain period of time, we will keep on shortlisting so that we can focus on them at least eight months to one year leading up to the World Cup”, Prasad had said prior to the Sri Lankan series.

Yet, the likes of Mohammad Shami and Umesh Yadav, both of whom figured in just one match in the Australian series, are dropped and Shardul Thakur finds himself back in coloured clothing. If Prasad and his team wanted to try out players on a rotation basis, one of Jasprit Bumrah or Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who are assured picks at the moment, could have been given a deserved break. Thakur’s return is welcoming after he played just two matches, earned more publicity for his No 10 jersey than his bowling, before being thrown out of the squad.

Infact, the team selected for this One Day series is almost identical to the one picked for the Sri Lankan ODIs two months back; only change being Rahul swapped for Karthik. With the World Cup quite a long way away and India’s home adventures edging to closure, it would have been ideal to test a few more youngsters like Jaydev Unadkat or Washington Sundar.

While rotation doesn’t happen, what about the ‘rested’ Test veterans?

With the ‘rotation’ theory no more viable, a new question mark hangs over the two veteran Test spinners, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. It is now fairly obvious that Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav and Axar Patel are the front-runners in the spin department in limited-overs cricket. But don’t the senior players deserve a fair explanation?

The term ‘rested’ which was first used when the duo were missing from the One Day squad, isn’t spoken anymore but they are nowhere near the vicinity of returning to the limited-overs setup. While it is a brave, sharp and logical move from the selectors to give the younger group of spinners a go, it is bizarre that they chose to use ‘rested’ for ‘dropped’. After all, how many are questioning Ashwin’s and Jadeja’s absence from the ODI team now?


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