Such is the modern cricket schedule that India’s unsuccessful T20 World Cup campaign has barely been reviewed, and a bigger tournament is already at their doorstep: a 50-over World Cup at home in October and November next year. India aren’t officially on the road to the 2023 ODI World Cup yet because they don’t currently have national selectors who, in consultation with the team management, will decide the direction the team takes. However, three of the 21 scheduled ODIs before the World Cup begin this Friday in New Zealand, and the focus needs to shift quickly after three years of keeping the 50-over format at No. 3 in the priority list.
This is enough to suggest India haven’t yet zeroed in on the rough squad they would like to take to the World Cup. And, in the meanwhile, plenty of new options have emerged. Pretty soon we will get a clearer picture of which way the team is leaning, but the selectors are not going to have it easy. Here is a look at the crowded space for 15 spots in the World Cup squad.
The top three have traditionally been India’s strength in ODIs but, like in T20Is, there has been debate on whether India need to be more dynamic up front. They have worked on it in the last three years, which shows in India being the second-quickest team in the powerplay, behind only England. Here’s the thing, though: in the 11 matches that all three of Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli have played in, India’s powerplay run-rate has dropped from 5.41 to 4.97.
Over the coming months, India will need to settle on both the personnel and the tempo they want to go at. With that in mind, here are the candidates for the top order. The following numbers for batters are since last the 2019 ODI World Cup, in that specific role.
Innings – 29, runs – 1192, average – 46, strike-rate – 83
Has played more ODIs than anyone else. India seem to have fixed on him as the left-hand option at the top.
I 17, R 718, A 45, SR 96
All-time ODI great, also the captain, will now get a string of matches under his belt after having focused on T20Is in the last three years.
I 24, R 1042, A 45, SR 91
Again an all-time great, now back in form, and will be looking to get back in ODI rhythm.
I 10, R 563, A 70, SR 106
Kohli’s heir apparent, but impossible to look past even when Kohli is there. Will keep others on their toes.
India will not want a repeat of the 2019 World Cup, where they ended up with an untested middle order that got exposed early in the semi-final. The options tried in the intervening three years have brought excellent results from Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul and Rishabh Pant. Hardik Pandya will be a shoo-in, especially if he keeps giving India even five overs every match. Here are the candidates for middle order in more detail.
I 11, R 603, A 67, SR 109
Found himself opening in the 2019 World Cup because of injuries. Of the 22 matches he has played since then, 10 have been in the top order with mediocre results. In middle order, Rahul has been excellent.
I 22, R 928, A 49, SR 99
Short-ball troubles aside, has shown himself capable of batting long and batting quick. Doesn’t let spinners settle in middle overs.
I 15, R 613, A 44, SR 114
Gets time to play himself in unlike in T20s. Once he does, dangerous left-hand batter.
I 10, R 429, A 48, SR 116
Showed himself to be good enough as batter alone in Australia in 2020-21. Bowling is a priceless bonus.
I 12, R 340, A 34, SR 99
His red-hot form in T20s cannot be ignored. But how do you fit them all in?
Others: India are still giving chances to Rahul Tripathi, Rajat Patidar, Deepak Hooda and Sanju Samson
Apart from Hardik, India have a few spin-bowling allrounders to choose from. Once Ravindra Jadeja is fit, he should be India’s first choice, but others have an opportunity to present their case in his absence. From Hardik and this No. 7, India will need to be confident of getting in more than 10 good overs. The following numbers for bowlers are since last the 2019 World Cup.
Matches – 18, runs – 335, strike rate – 95, wickets – 13, economy rate – 5.4
Worryingly injury-prone in last couple of years. Still India’s best No. 7.
M 6, R 92, SR 137, W 8, ER 4.2
Closest one gets to cloning Jadeja. Potent as a limited-overs bowler, less so as a batter.
M 5, R 57, SR 76, W 7, ER 4.8
Offspinning variety. Has been out with injuries.
With the allrounder-spinner likely to be a defensive one, India will look for striking abilities in their other spinner. That should zero it down to two names: the wrist-spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal. They are both there in New Zealand but have been rested from the ODIs in Bangladesh, where India might look to lengthen their batting order by playing two spinner-allrounders.
M 18, W 34, ER 5.6, SR 28
India’s highest wicket-taker since the 2019 World Cup, taking one every 28 balls. Unlucky not to have played in the last two T20 World Cups.
M 21, W 25, ER 5.8, SR 45
Being slowly rehabilitated into international cricket after massive drop in confidence. Left-arm wristspin could be a point of difference.
Another muddied field because India haven’t been able to play their best combinations. A fit Jasprit Bumrah should walk in. Prasidh Krishna has emerged as a strong contender to bowl uncomfortable lengths in the middle overs. Shardul Thakur has leaked runs but has picked up wickets. Arshdeep Singh will be hard to ignore. Mohammed Siraj has been excellent too. Will India need a swing bowler in Bhuvneshwar Kumar or Deepak Chahar? Mohammed Shami is never too far from making the final cut. Kuldeep Sen has been sent to Bangladesh. Umran Malik is currently with the squad in New Zealand.
M 14, W 18, ER 5.2, SR 44
His strike-rate has been high of late, but his quality is unquestioned.
M 14, W 25, ER 5.3, SR 27
India have invested heavily in him for a Mark Wood-like role, which he has performed well as seen in his excellent strike-rate of 27.
M 12, W 18, ER 4.5, SR 32
Has wicket-taking ability, can bowl uncomfortable lengths.
Left-arm angle, proven himself in T20s although yet to make ODI debut. Doesn’t have body of work in domestic List A matches either.
The problem with these choices is a familiar one: they leave India with four No. 11s, which in turn takes away some of the freedom from the batting order. That’s where Chahar and Thakur come into the picture. Bhuvneshwar’s experience can’t be discounted, but he is less of a batter than the other two.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo