Middle-order slots in focus

Middle-order slots in focus

Rishabh Pant

India managed to defend their Asia Cup crown recently but the men in blue left Dubai without a solid answer to their long-standing problem.

Be it in their tied encounter against Afghanistan or in the title clash, where Rohit Sharma’s men huffed and puffed their way to the target, the fragile middle-order troubled India.

With their eyes set on the World Cup next year, India have tried a number of players to get their best men at the No and 5 spots with little success. When the senior selection committee meets here on Thursday to pick the limited overs squad for the series against the West Indies, the focus will be on this issue.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s poor form accentuates the problem. With a highest score of 36 from four innings (6 matches) in Asia Cup, the veteran had yet another underwhelming tournament. Dhoni’s story was no different in the three-match ODI series in England, during which he left things too late on more than one occasion.

This could push the selectors to bring in Rishabh Pant as Dhoni’s cover. Dinesh Karthik not having impressive numbers in the Asia Cup could boost Pant’s chances to make it to the squad. 

Skipper Virat Kohli has returned from a break and it is unlikely that the right-hander will be rested for the entire series. The squad is most likely to be announced for the first three ODIs starting October 21.

At the top, the opening pair Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan looks settled. With Kohli back at number 3, Ambati Rayudu could be pushed down to number 4. Rayudu put behind the disappointment of missing the England tour due to a failed Yo-Yo test with two half-centuries in the Asia Cup. The Hyderabad player, with his gutsy style of play, is definitely in the race to seal a place in the middle-order.

While K L Rahul, awaiting his share of opportunities, will still hold on to his place, it is interesting to see if the selectors discuss Shreyas Iyer. The Mumbaikar has struck two tons and a half-century in the ongoing Vjay Hazare Trophy to catch the selectors' attention. In case a senior batsman like Dhawan is rested, Iyer might be brought in. 

It remains to be seen if Karnataka batsman Manish Pandey, who had a stellar series with the India ‘A’, is retained. Pandey had just one one opportunity in the Asia Cup.

Hardik Pandya’s back injury will leave him out of the series while the pace duo of Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, rested for the ongoing two-match Test series, are expected to return.