With the turn of the calendar year, the road to the 2019 cricket World Cup has well and truly begun. Every team is trying to get their best combinations and best squads ready in time for the quadrennial event which will be held from May 30 to July 14 in England and Wales.
India and England have been termed as the top favourites to go all the way while teams like South Africa and Pakistan are always dark horses for such tournaments.
But with only six ODI matches left for the World Cup to commence, New Zealand highlighted a few chinks in India's armour which cannot be overlooked. While most of the Indian squad selects itself, a few places in the 15-member contingent are still up for grabs. Here's taking a look at the debatable selections – who are favourites at the moment and who can potentially take their place at the eleventh hour.
Players who will definitely be a part of the squad: Virat Kohli (C), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, MS Dhoni, Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Ravindra Jadeja
This leaves three spots that need to be filled, keeping in mind various combinations:
Number 4 slot – Ambati Rayudu/Rishabh Pant
Ambati Rayudu is the favourite to bat at number 4 in India's batting order in the World Cup but his performances have not inspired confidence. He has retired from domestic cricket and not been able to replicate his IPL performances on foreign shores.
This has opened up a debate on replacing him in the squad with a player like Rishabh Pant who can turn the game around in a matter of overs. Pant can bat anywhere from opening to number 6 and will thus provide backup in case he does not start. His wicketkeeping ability is an added benefit.
Reserve Batsman/Wicketkeeper – KL Rahul/Dinesh Karthik
In case Ambati Rayudu wins the previous battle, India will need a reserve wicketkeeper. In that case, Dinesh Karthik emerges as a favourite above Pant given his recently acquired expertise of finishing games. MS Dhoni is no more the lone warrior he once was and needs support down the order and Karthik has emerged as one of the best finishers in the world.
If Pant wins over Rayudu, India will have a reserve wicketkeeper in him and might look at Rahul as cover for India's openers. Although the 26-year-old has not been in form, he is still in India's scheme of things.
Fourth seamer – Khaleel Ahmed/Umesh Yadav
While Khaleel Ahmed looked a certainty to travel to England coming out of the home series against the Windies, his place has certainly come under the scanner following India's trip to the Australian continent.
Khaleel has struggled to find his rhythm in New Zealand and did not inspire confidence in Australia either. In fact, he was dropped after one match against the Aussies and was only selected in New Zealand when the management decided to give Shami a rest.
In these circumstances, the management might fall back on the experience of Umesh Yadav. The right-arm pacer was a standout performer for India in the 2015 World Cup and is a wicket-taking option. Selector MSK Prasad has not ruled him out of contention either and he could well spring a surprise.
Wildcard entries: Shubman Gill and Deepak Chahar