India looks to seal WC squad

Hyderabad: The Indian cricket team will continue its experiments to figure out the final pieces of a jigsaw puzzle called the ‘World Cup squad’ when a five-match ODI series against Australia starts here Saturday.

The team is slowly moving into the World Cup mode and even a 0-2 loss in the just-concluded T20 series won’t see any shift in plans as far as skipper Virat Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri are concerned.

“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,” skipper Kohli said after the Bengaluru T20 loss headlining his intention.

There will be at least four players for whom the series will be like a ‘pre test’, a good score ensuring that they get ‘admit cards’ for the board exams. 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. 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 Mangalore man could well be a permanent fixture in the side.

All eyes will also be on Pant, who hasn’t exactly been consistent in the shorter formats but such is his talent and ability to win matches singlehandedly that the team management may give him a few more matches before taking a final call.

For Vijay Shankar, his bowling doesn’t exactly inspire confidence but Hardik Pandya’s dodgy fitness will keep him in the race and he can still claim for a second all-rounder’s slot if Pandya is the first choice.

Kaul is a rank outsider and could be a blind side entry as the reserve pacer as the team mangement’s trial test with Khaleel Ahmed hasn’t yielded the desired results. With Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah being automatic choices, Kaul will probably get two games to prove his worth. But Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri are not likely to tinker with the core team too much as a comprehensive series win is always an acceptable proposition.

With the seasoned Ambati Rayudu, veteran all-rounder Kedar Jadhav and the wily 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 and Yuzvendra Chahal will be operating in tandem during those middle overs to choke the run flow. Add to it, Jadhav’s side-arm low off-breaks and the likes of Glenn Maxwell, D’Arcy Short, Marcus Stoinis and Shaun Marsh may find it difficult to negotiate the overs.

The Australian team, buoyed by the maiden T20 triumph over India, will be eager to continue the momentum it has gained. Nathan Lyon’s presence will lend teeth to the spin department and he will partner Adam Zampa.