India captain Virat Kohli has called on the pace bowlers in the squad to present their case for World Cup selection during the 13 One-Day Internationals that are left before the quadrennial event later this year.
India will play three ODIs in Australia, five in New Zealand, and then host the Aussies for five more matches before the World Cup begins on May 30 in the United Kingdom.
Jasprit Bumrah, who has been rested for the ODIs in Australia and New Zealand after playing in all four Test matches against Australia, and Bhuvneshwar Kumar are more or less confirmed to be on the flight to the UK in May.
Apart from them, Kohli said the remaining ODIs present a chance for others to also book a spot in the Indian World Cup squad.
Kohli said he was excited about having Bhuvneshwar back in the team after he had to sit out of all four Tests against Australia.
“He has been working hard during the Tests,” Kohli told reporters on Friday during his press conference ahead of the first ODI against Australia in Sydney.
“There was no room for him to be featured in the XI purely because of the strength of the bowling attack together.”
Kohli added that the series starting Saturday is a chance for Khaleel Ahmed and Mohammed Shami to make a case for themselves.
“Khaleel [Ahmed] has done well when given opportunities but this is going to be very different challenge,” the India captain said. “The good thing is he has played a few games and gained confidence from them.
“Shami, again, we feel has the skill to provide breakthroughs with the new ball. He has a chance to establish himself as the member of the pace quartet or however many go to the World Cup.
“[Mohammed] Siraj comes in as well. Those spots are up for grabs. We’ve been wanting to figure out who, apart from Bhuvi and Bumrah, are the two or three more guys we can bank on.
“These games will provide an opportunity for those guys to, firstly, present their case strongly and, secondly, gain confidence.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for all these guys who are going to step in to show what they have and seal a spot for themselves,” he added.
As for India’s spin combination for the World Cup, Kohli said that much would depend on the conditions on offer.
“If you see the last few matches that we played in UAE and India, we could play a finger spinner and a wrist spinner, but in South Africa and England two wrist spinners were critical for our success,” he said.
“We have to look at the pitch. If it’s really dry and a finger spinner is in favour of being featured, we will go with the same combination that we have been going with.
“If it is flat and won’t provide anything [for the bowlers], the two wrist spinners become a more attacking and more feasible option.
“We’ll have to figure out based on the conditions but both scenarios are pretty much in play,” he added.
India are heading into the three ODIs against Australia on a high after winning the Test series 2-1. An off-field controversy involving all-rounder Hardik Pandya and batsman KL Rahul after the Test series has taken some of the focus off India’s on-field performance, but Kohli denied that it would affect his team.
“We all know what has happened,” he said. “We need to go out and play cricket. All these external factors are not going to derail our motivation and preparation for the World Cup.
“I don’t think anything can take away from what we have done as a team in the Test series. Nothing should be taken away from that.
“The issue needs to be dealt with, which is being done. The immediate focus now is to prepare for the World Cup,” he added.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India’s Committee of Administrators’ head Vinod Rai wants Pandya to be banned for a couple of ODIs for his comments on a television talk show. However, Kohli believes that in case Pandya is banned, it wouldn’t affect the team combination much.
“The good thing is we have got [Ravindra] Jadeja who can play the all-rounder’s role if a scenario like that occurs,” the captain said. “We are not too stressed as a team because we keep players who can provide balance with bat and ball as backup anyway, if someone has a niggle or injury.
“We’re always prepared for those scenarios and I don’t think we will have too much trouble if we have to change our combination,” he added.