The 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup is less than 3 months away and all the participating teams have begun their preparations ahead of the cricket extravaganza. The same can be said of the defending Champions India who have started their preparation for the World Cup in style by hunting down Sri Lanka at home. At the conclusion of the series, India not only won it 5-0, but also have a big problem to answer as they face some healthy competition among the players who are ready to fight out for a place in the playing XI. The selection committee and the team management have their task cut out on answering this issue.

The Indian 15 men squad for the World Cup is all but settled with less than two months to go for the squads deadline (January 14). Now the only problem is to field a strong fielding XI. Before going to the playing XI, let me bring you the likely 15 member squad for the World Cup.

Squad: MS Dhoni (Captain), Virat Kohli (Vice-Captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Ambati Rayudu, Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Varun Aaron, Mohammad Shami, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma and Akshar Patel.

Among the fifteen, the following players have cemented their place in the playing XI. The playing XI comprises of:

“two openers”, “number three”, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni, “All-Rounder”, R Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammad Shami and “third fast bowler”.

Here are the answers for the remaining slots.

The Third Fast Bowler:

Fast bowling has been India’s weak-link in the past, but this time, India are going to the World Cup with a good fast bowling unit and with the conditions in Australia and New Zealand known to assist the pacers, this is the right time for the Indian pacers to prove the critics wrong. India is all set to go into the World Cup with five pacers in the squad which includes Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Shami Ahmed, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron. Among these five, India will go in with three pacers out of which Bhuvneshwar and Shami are certainties in the playing XI.

For the remaining one slot, it will be a three horse race between Umesh, Aaron and Ishant. Umesh, who did reasonably well in the recently concluded series against Sri Lanka. He will be in the reckoning along with a more experienced Ishant Sharma, who is said to have performed well in Australia more than any other parts of the World.

Umesh, on the other hand will be the perfect foil for Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammad Shami. Umesh, who can click over 140 kmph consistently is the type of bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar (who can swing the ball both ways and is economical throughout the innings including the death overs) needs apart from having Shami, who is a good death bowler. Umesh has the ability to get some quick wickets and can maintain his consistency in doing so. Ishant can be a bit in-consistent and can go for runs. Aaron will be the last choice among these five bowlers.

If Ishant bowls exceedingly well in the tests, he might push hard for a place in the playing XI ahead of Umesh. If either of them gets a chance and fails to start the tournament well, the other one will come into the playing XI in the remaining part of the tournament, given that there is no place for half measures.

My Pick: Umesh Yadav

The All Rounder:

Akshar Patel might get the nod ahead of Jadeja

Akshar Patel, who has grabbed the opportunity given to him with both his hands, is all set to take on more experienced Ravindra Jadeja for the All Rounder’s slot in India’s playing XI. Though it is certain that Jadeja will get the nod ahead of Akshar in the Commonwealth Bank series or early stages of the World Cup, Akshar can still be a part of the XI if the Saurashtrian fails to perform well in those matches. Akshar is as good as Jadeja with the ball, a safer bet with the bat but is just below Jadeja’s abilities in the field.

My Pick: Akshar Patel

Top three Batsmen:

The two opening batsmen along with the number three is the biggest headache for India. At the end of India’s tour to England, it was almost certain that Ajinkya Rahane will open the innings for India in the World Cup. The recently concluded ODIs against West Indies and Sri Lanka saw Shikhar Dhawan in a marauding form as he scored runs for fun. It was almost confirmed that Ajinkya Rahane and Shikhar Dhawan will open for India in the World Cup with either injured Rohit Sharma or Ambati Rayudu will play at number three. It was when Rohit, who missed the ODIs against England due to a fractured finger made his comeback into the side.

In his comeback match, he triggered a confusion yet again on who should be the top three for India in the World Cup as he scored a record braking 264 in the fourth ODI against Sri Lanka at Kolkata. With that innings, he sealed his spot for the World Cup leaving a two-way battle for his opening partner. Rahane, who showed some promise in England is the likely candidate to miss out from the playing XI owing to his inconsistency in the limited overs format. Dhawan is capable of giving some quick starts and adding to that India flourished under the opening Partnership of Dhawan and Rohit during the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy.

On the other hand, Rayudu, who was consistent in ODI’s since India’s series against New Zealand will get the nod at number three ahead of Rahane. Rahane has scored some quick runs as an opener but is merely a liability in the middle order or at number three. Rayudu has shown some consistency since India’s ODI series against New Zealand that took place in early 2014. He did reasonably well in the Asia Cup, India’s tour of England, ODIs against West Indies and Sri Lanka at home. If Rahane manages to get some runs under his belt in the test series against Australia, he might make his case stronger for a place in the Playing XI.

My Pick: Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma opening with Ambati Rayudu at number three.

Yusuf Pathan was chosen ahead of Rohit Sharma in the squad and Suresh Raina in the Playing XI courtesy his fifty and hundred against South Africa during India’s tour to the rainbow nation preceding the 2011 World Cup. But due to some poor performances early on, he was replaced by Suresh Raina in the later stages of the tournament. So if the players fails to perform well initially, the team management won’t have any option but to drop him from the XI without any second thoughts. Simply, the message for the players will be perform or perish. There is no second chance at the World Cup.

The playing XI: Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Ambati Rayudu, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni, Akshar Patel, R Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammad Shami and Umesh Yadav.

Having said these, some brilliant performances from Rahane, Ishant or any other member in the squad will open their door for the World Cup.