Mumbai: Skipper Virat Kohli’s availability and veteran Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s future will be in focus when the MSK Prasad-led national selection panel meets here on Friday to pick the Indian cricket squads for next month’s tour of the West Indies.
The 38-year old Dhoni, whose finishing abilities with the bat has been on the wane, would be the centre of discussion amid speculation that the Jharkhand player is contemplating retirement even though he hasn’t spoken about it till now. Dhoni’s selection or omission would be an indicator of things to come in the future.
India are set to play T20s, as many ODIs and two Tests in a full-fledged tour to the Caribbean islands, starting 3 August. Considering next year’s T20 World Cup to be held in Australia, the selectors might opt for the young Rishabh Pant, who is seen as heir apparent to Dhoni.
Dhoni was dropped from the T20 series against West Indies and Australia last October and there is a strong chance that he won’t be included this time around too. Pant was recently called up as replacement for an injured opener Shikhar Dhawan in the World Cup, from where India were ousted in the semifinal stage.
Another issue that would surely be debated is the availability of Kohli, who has been on the road for a while. There is a school of thought that the skipper could be rested considering the long domestic season ahead, which begins in September, and in this scenario Rohit Sharma could be handed captaincy for the shorter formats.
However, with the two Tests being part of the ICC Test Championship, Kohli could be included in the Test squad. A similar approach could be taken for pacer Jasprit Bumrah. The panel would also work on restructuring the middle-order as it was one of the primary reasons for India’s exit from the World Cup semi-final. Stabilising the number four spot is the need of the hour going ahead.
It is expected that picking the middle-order could lead to the biggest debate as the panel has a few choices among Karnataka’s Mayank Agarwal, Manish Pandey and Mumbai’s Shreyas Iyer, who has been knocking the doors after scoring heavily in domestic cricket. Pandey scored a match-winning 100 for India A against the West Indies A in an unofficial third ODI and after Ambati Rayudu’s sudden retirement and Vijay Shankar’s failure to nail the number four spot, the focus will be on the trio. Also, the selectors may consider the talented young Punjab batsman Shubhman Gill. A determined Gill has been among the runs in the West Indies tour for India A. Gill and Shreyas could make the cut. It could also be end of the road for the experienced Dinesh Karthik and Maharashtra all-rounder Kedar Jadhav, who failed to perform in the World Cup.
Other regulars, including K L Rahul, Hardik Pandya, Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, could retain their places in the limited-overs squads. Among the new faces, Delhi speedster Navdeep Saini could make the team as he has impressed in the ongoing India A tour of West Indies and even picked a fifer.
The selectors could also look at the likes of Khaleel Ahmed, Deepak Chahar, and Avesh Khan apart from regular pacers Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who could be retained. Khaleel being a left-arm pacer adds variety to the attack.
The choice of wicket-keepers for the Tests would be watched with interest as Pant did the job in the last series India played in Australia. With a fit-again Wriddiman Saha, who is considered the best in the country, it remains to be seen if the selectors bring him back or look to the future in Pant. The T20 Internationals are scheduled from 3 to 6 August, while the ODIs will take place from 8 to 14 August. The two-Test series will be played from 22 August 22 to 3 September.