Virat Kohli and the Indian cricket team management will look to narrow down on the World Cup squad during the five-match ODI series against Australia, starting in Hyderabad on Saturday.
The team is slowly moving into the World Cup mode and even a 0-2 loss in the recently-concluded T20I series won’t see any shift in plans as far as skipper Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri are concerned.
But if you thought that meant winning the series was secondary for Kohli, the Indian captain brushed aside that suggestion.
“Every team will look to fine-tune whatever they need to before the World Cup, and we’ll keep doing that in the ODI series too, but we still want to win every match we play,” Kohli said after the Bengaluru T20I loss on Wednesday, headlining his intention.
The 30-year-old did not take too kindly to the suggestion that the team was experimenting during this Australia tour at the cost of winning.
“We are playing to win the series or else I’ll leave the ball to hit the stumps,” Kohli said.
“As I said earlier, if we want to see how a few guys play in a certain situation, we’ll play them again in that situation. It’s not like if a guy is not playing in a certain situation, he doesn’t have the ability,” he added.
There are four players in the Indian squad for whom this series is extremely important. A good performance can bolster their chances of getting to England, while poor form will most-likely mark the end of their World Cup hopes.
The four players in question are KL Rahul, Rishabh Pant, Vijay Shankar and Siddarth Kaul, who are fighting for two available slots in that UK-bound 15-member squad.
One man who will be keenly tracking the developments from the sidelines will be Dinesh Karthik, who still, many believe, has an outside chance of making it to the team.
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However, for the quartet of Rahul, Pant, Shankar and Kaul, the coming five matches will be an acid test, as and when they are inducted into the playing XI.
Rahul should be in a good head space after scores of 50 and 47 in the two T20 Internationals, and is expected to get a few more chances at the top of the order.
The batsman is fighting for the reserve opener’s slot and who knows, if Shikhar Dhawan’s indifferent form continues, the right-hander from Karnataka could well be a permanent fixture in the side.
Focus will also be on Pant. The 21-year-old hasn’t been consistent in the shorter formats but such is his talent and ability to win matches single-handedly that the team management may give him a few more matches before taking a final call.
For Shankar, his bowling doesn’t exactly inspire confidence but Hardik Pandya’s dodgy fitness will keep him in the race and he can still come in as a second fast-bowling all-rounder. The Tamil Nadu all-rounder has earned rich praise from Shastri for hit batting skills and impressed during the New Zealand tour on more than one occasion.
Kaul is a rank outsider and could be a blind side entry as the reserve pacer, given the team management’s trial test with Khaleel Ahmed hasn’t yielded the desired results. Kaul has been included in the squad for just the first two ODIs, and will be replaced by Bhuvneshwar Kumar for the remaining matches.
With the seasoned Ambati Rayudu, veteran all-rounder Kedar Jadhav and the dangerous Mohammed Shami back in the Indian set-up, the ODI series will be a completely different challenge for Aaron Finch and his men.
Also, the formidable wrist spin duo of Kuldeep Yadav (returning after a short break) and Yuzvendra Chahal will be operating in tandem during those middle overs to choke the run flow.
The likes of Glenn Maxwell, D’Arcy Short, Marcus Stoinis and Shaun Marsh may find it difficult to negotiate Jadhav’s side-arm low off-breaks during the middle overs.
Bumrah, set to be India’s premier bowler in England, may be rested for a game or two depending on India’s position in the series.
The Australian team, buoyed by their very first T20I series triumph over India, will be eager to continue the momentum they have gained.
Nathan Lyon’s presence will lend teeth to the spin department and he will be partnered with Adam Zampa. Andrew Tye, a late replacement for the injured Kane Richardson, will like to use all the variations learnt during his stints with various Indian Premier League franchises.
India: Virat Kohli [captain], Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Ambati Rayudu, Mahendra Singh Dhoni [wicketkeeper], Kedar Jadhav, Vijay Shankar, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Rishabh Pant, Siddarth Kaul, KL Rahul, Ravindra Jadeja.
Australia: Aaron Finch [captain], D’Arcy Short, Shaun Marsh, Marcus Stoinis, Usman Khawaja, Alex Carey, Peter Handscomb, Ashton Turner, Adam Zampa, Jason Behrendorff, Jhye Richardson, Pat Cummins, Andrew Tye, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Nathan Lyon.
The first ODI between India and Australia starts at 1.30 pm [IST] in Hyderabad on Saturday.
[With inputs from PTI]