It’s been a newsy start to the new year for Indian cricket. On January 1, skipper Rohit Sharma, coach Rahul Dravid, Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) officials and National Cricket Academy (NCA) head VVS Laxman held a review meeting and charted the roadmap for the 2023 ODI World Cup in October- November.
The key takeaways were identifying 20 players who will be rotated in the build-up to the marquee event and issuing a directive that IPL franchises will now have to work in tandem with NCA to monitor the workload of these players.
On Saturday, a fresh five-member selection panel, which will continue to be headed by former India pacer Chetan Sharma, was also put in place.
Starting Tuesday at the Barsapara Cricket Stadium in Guwahati – venue of the first ODI between India and Sri Lanka — it’s over to the players to begin laying strong claims for a place in the final 15-member squad for the quadrennial spectacle. Though the World Cup is nine months away, all India have is 15 bilateral ODIs between now and then to settle on their strongest combination.
That this series is foremost on Indian cricket’s priorities is apparent from the presence of a nearly full-strength squad with the exception of Rishabh Pant and Jasprit Bumrah. While Pant has undergone knee surgery following the road accident near hometown Roorkee on December 30, Bumrah’s return has been delayed due to “stiffness in his back”. Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Arshdeep Singh and Umran Malik are the pace bowlers available for Rohit.
Among the players eager to impress will be opener Shubman Gill. With the vastly experienced Shikhar Dhawan dropped after below par returns over the past 12 months, Gill has the opportunity to forge a successful partnership with Rohit and make the opening slot his own.
That Gill has got the nod for the first ODI over Ishan Kishan, who slammed the fastest ODI double century in India’s last game against Bangladesh, will be a big boost to the 23-year-old from Punjab.
They were among the first to hit the nets alongside Virat Kohli during an optional session on Monday evening, taking turns against the seamers and throwdown specialists.
Rohit conceded that the decision will be a bitter pill to swallow for Kishan, but Gill’s recent numbers mean he will get the first crack at opening. In 12 matches in 2022, Gill scored 638 runs at an average of 70.88 and a strike rate of 102.57.
“Both have done really well. But it is fair that we give Gill a chance to have a fair run. In recent games, Gill has got a lot of runs. So has Ishan. He got a double hundred. I know what it takes to get a double tone. It is a great achievement. But just to be honest and fair to the guys who have done really well before that. It is unfortunate that we won’t be able to play Ishan,” he said.
The preference for Gill over Kishan also means that KL Rahul will continue donning the gloves. Removed from vice-captaincy for this ODI series, Rahul has a point to prove. He will bat in the middle-order alongside Kohli, vice-captain Hardik Pandya and Suryakumar Yadav or Shreyas Iyer.
It may seem preposterous to suggest that Yadav could be left out given his stupendous form in T20Is, but Rohit’s emphasis on ODI records in response to a query on India’s middle-order options hinted at a surprise omission. While Yadav has scored 384 runs in 16 ODIs at an average of 32, Iyer has 1,537 runs in 39 ODIs at 48.03.
“We will look at who has done well for us in ODI cricket and in what situations they have done well. The problem happens when you start comparing different formats. Those guys who have performed in ODIs will get a run, as simple as that. Form is important, but the formats are also important. 50-over format is different, slightly longer than T20s. The guys who have done well will definitely get an opportunity,” he said.
‘Not giving up T20Is’
Rohit also said on Monday that he hasn’t given up playing T20s for India. Having been excluded from the just-concluded T20I series against Sri Lanka along with Virat Kohli, there has been speculation that India will move on from the senior pros in the shortest format. Hardik Pandya led India to a 2-1 series win in the T20Is.
“This is a 50-over World Cup year. For some of the guys, it’s not possible to play all formats. If you look at the schedule, the matches are back-to-back. So, we decided on looking at some players’ workload and making sure we give enough break time and manage them. I definitely fall within that. We have only six T20Is this year. But certainly, I have not decided to give up the format,” he said.