The next One-Day International that India will play is the World Cup opener against South Africa in Southampton on 5 June.

Virat Kohli and Co have no more ODIs left before the marquee event as a long international season came to a close with a rather surprising series defeat against Australia. Despite that, with just a few weeks left for the final squads to be announced, Kohli sounded confident that the team is well aware of their best combinations.

In this series, we have looked at the ladder, so to speak, of the potential Indian World Cup squad over the past few months. This is a ranking of players, starting with those who are dead-certain to make the squad, and going down the rung in decreasing order of their chances of making it to the final 15.

The first part was published ahead of the Asia Cup where we looked at the squad’s performances in England and where it placed them in the pecking order. The second part took stock of the standings after the Asia Cup and the West Indies series, before India’s successful tour of Australia.

And here we are, after a series defeat against Australia at home, with no more ODIs left before the World Cup. And with just a few weeks left for the selectors to announce their squads, we have a look at how things stand.

(Note: The first few slots are guaranteed picks, and the order is purely subjective. Also, the first 11 of the list doesn’t necessarily have to be the first-choice playing XI. This list is not what the writer feels should be the final squad, but a guesstimate of what Kohli and the Indian selectors are likely to pick.)

  1. Virat Kohli

Well, he is Virat Kohli. Moving on...

2. Rohit Sharma

The last few matches have witnessed a brief blip in Rohit’s batting but he is still only behind Kohli (not just statistically, but in terms of importance to the team as well) with 556 runs at an average of 42.76 in 13 matches since the West Indies series.

3. Jasprit Bumrah

Well, he is Jasprit Bumrah. Moving on...

4. Kuldeep Yadav

There is no change in the top four from our previous ladder but there might be a few concerns in the Indian camp over Kuldeep’s recent bowling figures. He is still India’s leading wicket-taker in the 13-match period since ODIs against West Indies (20 in 11 innings) but his economy rate has been 5.52 in that period compared to his 4.93 overall. Still excellent, but it will be interesting to see how he adapts if more teams adopt Australia’s approach of attacking him.

5. MS Dhoni (+2)

It’s been quite the start to 2019 for Captain Cool. A total of 327 runs at an average of 81.75 in the last 9 matches he has played and his never-wavering glovework has silenced most of critics (especially in the wake of Rishabh Pant’s mishaps behind the stumps). India and Kohli will be hoping he will continue to be rock-solid if not spectacular in the middle order through out the World Cup.

6. Hardik Pandya (-1)

The curious case of Hardik is that, despite all that has gone on his career since the last time we did this ladder, his importance to the team still seems rather undiminished. Any other player who has played only three of the 13 matches in the lead up to the World Cup would have seen his stocks crash, but such is the balance he brings to Kohli that Hardik continues to occupy a key role in the squad.

7. Shikhar Dhawan (-1)

An ICC event must be around the corner because Dhawan finally found his free-scoring touch in the fourth ODI against Australia, on a pitch that is likely to be very close to most India will encounter in the World Cup — flat and full of runs. His recent poor form notwithstanding, Dhawan is a different beast in major tournaments and despite sliding down a few places, he is still crucial for India.

8. Kedar Jadhav (+2)

If anyone in the Indian lower-middle order has emerged with any credit in the recent mixed bag of results, it’s Jadhav. Once in Australia and once in India, he showed he can be the perfect foil to Dhoni in a run-chase. And his bowling is still rather handy, as he continues the knack of dismissing a top-order batsman here and there.

9. Bhuvneshwar Kumar (-1)

Kumar’s importance to this team in England should not be questioned in an ideal scenario, but Mohammed Shami’s resurgence (more on that below) has meant there is a large section of fans who feel the latter is now second in the pecking order behind Bumrah. And then came a timely reminder from Kumar in the final ODI that he has lot more to offer to this team than just being a good white ball bowler. India’s lower order batting is a concern for Kohli, clearly, because he keeps picking Jadeja over Chahal when he needs batting depth but Kumar continues to show that he is far more reliable as a batsman than any of India’s bowlers.

10. Mohammed Shami (+12)

Around the time the previous ladder was published, Shami was left out of India’s team after a brief comeback in the ODI series against West Indies and later went on to play for Bengal in the Ranji Trophy, where he bowled more overs than he was asked to by the BCCI, with his fitness in mind for the Australia tour. He decided on his own, he had said, what was right for him. And since then, he has played nearly non-stop for India across formats. Kohli has been full of praise for how Shami has turned his career around by improving his fitness — shedding a fair few pounds and running in hard, session after session, match after match. He has surged up the ladder and made himself a certainty for the World Cup, off-field issues permitting.

11. Yuzvendra Chahal

If Chahal were a better fielder or a half-decent batsman, he would feature far higher on this ladder. Right now, despite the solid partnership he had struck with Kuldeep in the last season, it just seems his place in the first XI will be under the scanner every time Kohli is worried about India’s batting depth. He seems to be invariably be the first man out in such a scenario.

12. KL Rahul

“The eternal third opener? Nothing’s happened in the past couple of months for Rahul to force his way back into the first-choice playing XI,” is what we had said in the second version of the ladder.

A few modifications: Plenty has happened (off the field) for Rahul, but despite making a good comeback in the T20Is against Australia, it’s mostly status quo for the Karnataka batsman.

13. Vijay Shankar (+15)

Well, that escalated quickly for Vijay. While Hardik’s absence from the squad did not do his cause any great damage, it opened a door for the Tamil Nadu all-rounder and he has put his foot in.

As written in the series review of India versus Australia:

His 46 in Nagpur in the second ODI saw him outshine Kohli for the period he was in the middle before an unfortunate run-out. His 26 in Ranchi made sure India did not suffer a familiar collapse at the end after a strong platform. His 32 in Ranchi and 16 in Delhi were two innings that looked promising before he perished for attempting one big shot too many. He batted at different positions across the series and generally came across as well equipped to be a floater in the middle order.

With the ball, he delivered a thrilling final over in the second ODI and bowled with control in Ranchi on a day when Kohli looked short of bowling options. 

Ravi Shastri had backed Vijay Shankar to come good during the New Zealand tour and he has continued to impress since. It is no guarantee that he will make the flight to England, if India opt to shore up their batting or bowling options with a specialist, given Hardik is fit enough. Even then, it would be harsh on Vijay given the run he has been on.

14. Ravindra Jadeja

The familiar issues remain. Since his comeback to the 50-over format at the Asia Cup, Jadeja has reiterated what most of us already knew. He is an extraordinary fielder, he is a bowler who can give you 10 solid overs on most days without conceding a truckload of runs but will struggle to provide breakthroughs in the middle overs, he is a batsman who’s reputation far exceeds his returns. And yet, after being left out of the squad for the recent series, he was called back when Hardik needed to be rested and made his way to the XI in the decider with Kohli calling it the most-balanced team he can pick. It is hard to imagine India not carrying a third spinner in the squad for the World Cup and because an alternative (read: Krunal Pandya) has not been groomed, it seems Jadeja is all set to return to England as a ODI cricketer once again.

15. Ambati Rayudu (-6)

It’s been a weird few months for Rayudu. First, he received a strong backing from Kohli ahead of the West Indies ODIs to take up the No 4 slot and did well in that series. Then he went to Australia and struggled to find his touch. And over in New Zealand, he finished as India’s leading run-scorer in the series, thanks to a mighty impressive 90 in the final ODI. Back in India, where he was expected to seal his spot, however, he struggled once more and played only three matches against Australia for scores of 13, 18 and 2. The more worrying aspect in the recent series was his inability to rotate strike as he played 40 dots out of 59 deliveries faced, according to ESPNCricinfo. Another good IPL might be all he needs to ensure his place in the World Cup squad but it’s not a certainty if the selectors decide they need a back-up wicket-keeper.

The Field's ladder progression

Before Asia Cup Before India's tour of Australia After Australia's tour of India
1. Virat Kohli 1. Virat Kohli 1. Virat Kohli
2. Rohit Sharma 2. Rohit Sharma 2. Rohit Sharma
3. Kuldeep Yadav 3. Jasprit Bumrah (5) 3. Jasprit Bumrah
4. Hardik Pandya 4. Kuldeep Yadav (3) 4. Kuldeep Yadav 
5. Jasprit Bumrah 5. Hardik Pandya (4) 5. MS Dhoni (7)
6. Shikhar Dhawan 6. Shikhar Dhawan  6. Hardik Pandya (5)
7. MS Dhoni 7. MS Dhoni  7. Shikhar Dhawan (6)
8. Yuzvendra Chahal 8. Bhuvneshwar Kumar (9) 8. Kedar Jadhav (10)
9. Bhuvneshwar Kumar 9. Ambati Rayudu (14) 9. Bhuvneshwar Kumar (8)
10. KL Rahul 10. Kedar Jadhav (13) 10. Mohammed Shami (22)
11. Dinesh Karthik 11. Yuzvendra Chahal (8) 11. Yuzvendra Chahal 
12. Axar Patel 12. KL Rahul (10) 12. KL Rahul 
13. Kedar Jadhav 13. Khaleel Ahmed (23) 13. Vijay Shankar (28)
14. Ambati Rayudu 14. Ravindra Jadeja (29)  14. Ravindra Jadeja 
15. Shardul Thakur   15. Umesh Yadav (17) 15. Ambati Rayudu (9)
() indicates position in previous ladder, if there has been a change

The outsiders

16. Rishabh Pant

It all comes down to these few questions: do the selectors feel a back-up wicketkeeper is a must (and not see Rahul as one)? Does Kohli believe in the X-factor that Pant could provide with his batting that has not yet come out in the chances he has been given? If the answer to both these questions are a yes, Pant will still pip one of the above three names in the squad. If not, he will have to wait for his big chance.

17. Dinesh Karthik

There are plenty who believe even if a back-up for Dhoni is needed, it should be the more seasoned Karthik. And despite Kohli saying IPL form will not matter for World Cup selection, the KKR captain can still change that if he goes on to have a good tournament. But for now, a definite outsider.

18. Krunal Pandya

He has now become a T20I regular for India but is that, and a potentially good IPL season, enough for the selectors to pick him over Jadeja?

19. Khaleel Ahmed / Umesh Yadav

Both of these players featured in the top-15 in our previous ladder but Shami’s stunning rise has pushed down a few rungs and out of reckoning. The selectors have often hinted at adding a fourth pacer to the 15 in the past, though, and that might just keep the two interested.

20. Manish Pandey

Well, he got a Category ‘C’ central contract. So, he must still apparently be in the radar of the selectors? We can only assume so, and the Karnataka captain could see his name pop up in a discussion of India’s middle order options, yet again.