Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 13 December 2019

India tour of West Indies: MS Dhoni given freedom of choice but focus shifts to future

Here are some talking points following the announcement of the three Indian squads to visit the Caribbean next month

Rishabh Pant, right, cannot take for granted his wicket, or his place in the Indian XI, any longer. Andrew Boyers / Reuters
Rishabh Pant, right, cannot take for granted his wicket, or his place in the Indian XI, any longer. Andrew Boyers / Reuters

T20 specialists ushered in

India’s selectors on Sunday picked three squads set to travel to the West Indies in August.

The month-long tour of the Caribbean, scheduled to include three Twenty20 internationals, three one-day internationals and two Tests, is India’s first assignment since their Cricket World Cup semi-final exit on July 10.

The selection committee resisted making wholesale changes to the ODI side. But young 20-over specialists have been brought into the T20 squad, such as Washington Sundar, the Chahar brothers and Krunal Pandya. This makes sense as India play plenty more cricket in the shortest format next year, including the Asia Cup in Pakistan and the T20 World Cup in Australia.

Jasprit Bumrah has a breather before the Test series. Jason Cairnduff / Reuters
Jasprit Bumrah has a breather before the Test series. Jason Cairnduff / Reuters

Month-long break enough?

Senior players, including captain Virat Kohli and ODI vice-captain Rohit Sharma, will have been forgiven for wanting a break after a gruelling season.

And yet, Kohli and Rohit have been picked for all three formats. Fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah, allowed to give the white-ball series a miss, will join the Test squad during the latter half of the month. Only veteran wicketkeeper MS Dhoni and injured all-rounder Hardik Pandya have been rested for the entire tour.

There is speculation the seniors are playing due to the backlash they received after their World Cup semi-final defeat to New Zealand at Old Trafford – because losing in the last four of cricket’s biggest tournament amounts to letting down the fans, you see.

They needed to be involved in the two Tests as they are a part of the ICC Test Championship. But could they not have been given time off for the limited-overs series?

MS Dhoni's future remains up in the air. Clive Mason / Getty Images
MS Dhoni's future remains up in the air. Clive Mason / Getty Images

Only Dhoni can mention ‘R’ word

Dhoni has been granted leave to go join the Indian Army, with the 38-year-old’s long-term future left to hang in the balance, because “a legendary cricketer like MS Dhoni – he knows when to retire”.

In one line, chief selector MSK Prasad showed who the boss is – and it certainly is not Prasad. His assertion is not surprising. After all, Indians give too much importance to reputations.

Dhoni (90 Tests, 350 ODIs and 98 T20s) has played more international cricket than selectors Prasad (six Tests and 17 ODIs), Sarandeep Singh (three Tests and five ODIs), Devang Gandhi (four Tests and three ODIs), Jatin Paranjpe (four ODIs) and Gagan Khoda (two ODIs) have combined. In short, who are they to decide when the man who led India to the World Twenty20, World Cup and Champions Trophy titles should retire?

To give the ‘wise men’ credit, though, there seems to be a plan in place – which is to blood as many youngsters as possible in the meantime, while ‘the big man’ considers his future.

Sound or not, it is a strategy.

India will start to look beyond Dinesh Karthik. Aijaz Rahi / AP Photo
India will start to look beyond Dinesh Karthik. Aijaz Rahi / AP Photo

Karthik out as Pant is No 1

Even as Dhoni takes time off, another veteran wicketkeeper has been dispensed with. To the question about the omission of Dinesh Karthik, 34, Prasad said: “We had certain plans till the World Cup and post the World Cup, we need to give opportunities to those youngsters who will go on to play for long."

In effect, the selectors have made one of those youngsters - Rishabh Pant - India's No 1 wicketkeeper across formats.

Shreyas Iyer of Delhi Daredevils makes an international comeback. Altaf Qadri / AP Photo
Shreyas Iyer of Delhi Daredevils makes an international comeback. Altaf Qadri / AP Photo

Project ‘Finding No 4’ resumes

The team management was rightly criticised for failing to groom a long-term No 4 batsman in ODIs.

This is mostly due to the fact the top three of Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit and Kohli scored the bulk of the runs over the past six years. But a rare failure from the top order cost India when it mattered – in the semi-finals – leaving a semi-cooked middle order to raise their game, which they were unable to.

But with a new era having begun, there is perhaps a renewed interest in tackling the No 4 problem. Vijay Shankar is out injured, but India have three options from which to choose: KL Rahul, Manish Pandey and Shreyas Iyer.

Rahul has not been tried enough in this position, and his success at the top of the order – in the absence of an injured Dhawan – means he could be the leading candidate now that Dhawan is fit again to open the innings.

Pandey gets another go, too, but it is good to see the return of Iyer, who played the last of his six ODIs in February 2018.

Iyer should not have been dropped in the first place – not after scoring 210 runs, including two fifties, in five innings at an average of 42.00. But he is only 24 years old and matured beyond his years from his time leading Delhi Daredevils in the Indian Premier League.

Medium-pacer Deepak Chahar, second from right, could be one to watch out for. R Parthibhan / AP Photo
Medium-pacer Deepak Chahar, second from right, could be one to watch out for. R Parthibhan / AP Photo

Picking up speed

Despite Bumrah’s absence, India’s fast-bowling unit remains strong. Left-armer Khaleel Ahmed and right-armer Deepak Chahar have been recalled to the ODI squad. Both players, along with newcomer Navdeep Saini, have made it to the T20 side.

With Bhuvneshwar Kumar in both limited-overs teams, and Mohammed Shami in the ODI and Tests squads, India’s fast-bowling line-up looks in good shape – something Indian cricket has scarcely seen before.

Updated: July 22, 2019 04:31 AM

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