India take on South Africa in a three-match ODI series from January 19 — we take a look at the selection headaches for the Men in Blue ahead of the first match, their first one-dayer in six months.
Who opens with KL Rahul?
With KL confirming that he’ll return to the top, the focus shifts to his would-be opening partner. Shikhar Dhawan, armed with years of experience and a recent return to form, is the most likely option, but where does it leave India’s long-term plans, once Rohit Sharma returns?
With KL also hinting that they won’t be afraid of experimenting, some of the newer guys could get regular game time, and serve as backup options in the lead-up to the World Cup. In such a scenario, Ruturaj Gaikwad deserves a go, having scored heavily in domestic cricket. A game here could really add to his growing experience, and give him confidence after his stellar 2021 in white-ball cricket.
Suryakumar Yadav or Shreyas Iyer?
With Rishabh Pant expected to play at six, followed by the all-rounders, three players could be vying for the remaining spot in the middle order – Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan [least likely, given his place at the top].
The competition really is between Iyer and Yadav, considering Kishan has not batted below three in the two ODIs that he has played and is seen as an opening option in T20Is. Yadav has played only three ODIs, and is considered a power-hitter, while Iyer can play the role of anchor to perfection. With the lower middle-order relatively inexperienced in the absence of Ravindra Jadeja, India might be tempted to go in with Shreyas.
Is there a spot for Venkatesh Iyer?
With Hardik Pandya’s prolonged absence due to back injury, India should look to groom a seaming all-rounder, and Venkatesh seems to fit the bill, at least on paper. A big-hitter who can bat at any position, he is also a useful bowler, and India might be tempted to hand the KKR player an ODI debut. His presence would boost the batting depth of the side, [they could have Shardul Thakur at seven and either Deepak Chahar or Bhuvneshwar Kumar at eight], but his inclusion would also lead to a tweak in the bowling combination.
If he does play, India will only be able to accommodate either Shreyas or Yadav in the side. If Venkatesh Iyer is not selected in the XI, Thakur will likely play at seven, leaving them with just five bowlers.
Will India go in with only one spinner?
The last time India played South Africa in ODIs away, the duo of Kuldeep Yadav and Chahal wreaked havoc [33 wickets combined], which might prompt the visitors to play two tweakers in the XI this time around as well. With Thakur batting at seven, India will have five reliable bowlers, but they will be in a dilemma if the conditions force the side to go in with just one slower bowler.
Ashwin is a champion spinner but is only recently making his comeback in the format, while Chahal’s fortunes have dipped of late. Since the start of 2020, he averages 30.58, picking up 12 wickets in six games. His economy rate has risen to 6.22, up from his career rate of 5.20, and who remains India’s first-choice spinner will be interesting to see.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar or Deepak Chahar?
If India decide to go in with three specialist quicks, the choice for the third seamer could come out to be between Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Deepak Chahar, with Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj [if fit] likely to be first picks. Kumar and Chahar both can contribute with the bat if needed, which further makes it a tough choice for the management. While Kumar is vastly experienced, his form has been a major cause of concern recently. He played just one match in the T20 World Cup and managed to pick up three wickets in the three T20Is that followed against New Zealand.
Chahar, on the other hand, was impressive during the A series against South Africa, and could just edge ahead. Further, there’s also the option of bringing in more pace with the addition of Navdeep Saini, or trying out Prasidh Krishna, who made his debut last year.