2017 began on a dramatic note for India, as skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni hung up his boots as the leader, providing a way for the ever dynamic Virat Kohli to take over. With Dhoni calling it quits from the leadership post which was so synonymous to him, it was just a time before the BCCI made an official announcement of Kohli’s appointment as the full-time skipper.
The upcoming three-match ODI and T20I series against England at home will be Kohli’s first assignment as the full-time captain of the Indian side. He has led India in the past in Dhoni’s absence in shorter forms and has already whitewashed Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka. Now, however, against a highly competent England side that has made a complete turnaround, the task will be far cumbersome.
With the series against England in hindsight, the selectors announced squads for ODIs and T20Is a few hours ago and had surprises in store for everyone. The biggest headline though, which is bound to go down as highly welcoming news for millions across the globe, would be the recall handed over to veteran all-rounder Yuvraj Singh in the ODI and T20I squads. Yuvraj, who had an outstanding time in the Ranji Trophy earlier, was duly rewarded with a spot in the side.
Yuvraj’s inclusion in the ODI team clearly means that the management is looking out for someone with massive experience ahead of the ICC Champions Trophy. The sixth bowler issue has been a considerable headache for India for quite a while now, and Yuvraj is bound to provide a remedy to that problem. The fact that Yuvraj was chosen ahead of Suresh Raina for ODIs means that if the Punjab lad clicks, he could be in for a long-run in the team, with the 2019 ICC World Cup in mind. Yuvraj can ideally bat at 4 or 5 and provide Kohli with a few overs of part-time spin. The one aspect that dearly works in the southpaw’s favor is his ability to break partnerships in the middle of the innings.
With regular opener Rohit Sharma still nursing an injury, KL Rahul will ideally open alongside Shikhar Dhawan, who will play his first ODI in 12 months. The choice will be to opt between Rahul and Rahane as Dhawan’s partner at the top, but it should preferably be Rahul getting the nod. A couple of things work in the Karnataka star’s favor. Apart from his own fluent form off late, Rahane struggled in the ODI series against New Zealand and that will open an avenue for Rahul.
At No. 6 however, will be an intense competition as Kedar Jadhav and Manish Pandey will battle it out for one spot. If Rahane is given the nod as an opener, then Rahul too will join Pandey and Jadhav in that competition. Jadhav and Pandey both have done well for India in a short span and selecting just one out of them will be a huge dilemma for the selectors.
The all-rounder’s cupboard looks fully intact with Ravindra Jadeja and Hardik Pandya filling in. Dhoni opted to play Pandya as a specialist seamer against New Zealand, but considering skipper Virat Kohli’s love for perfection, it seems unlikely that Pandya will play as a seamer alone. Ravichandran Ashwin, who hasn’t played an ODI in 12 months, is back as well and expected to lead India’s assault in the spin department.
Mohammad Shami’s absence is still a concerning sign for team India as he remains the side’s best bet at the death. With Shami not participating, Umesh Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah will spearhead the pace attack, with Bhuvneshwar Kumar accompanying them. Umesh had a fantastic series against New Zealand as he picked eight wickets in 5 games. Also keeping in mind the Champions Trophy later this year, Umesh has to be India’s most lethal option among the pacers.
With the ODI squad being named, a clear message is sent from the selectors – there is absolutely no substitute for experience. The management could have relied on Kedar Jadhav’s spin bowling in order to provide a few overs, but it the quest for excellence and perfection which makes Yuvraj Singh such an irresistible package. If Yuvraj does well in the three-match series, he could well be on his way to England, as India would be eager to defend their title.
From the T20I front as well, there was a positive news as non-performing openers Shikhar Dhawan and Ajinkya Rahane were axed. Replacing them are Mandeep Singh and the young Rishabh Pant, who have already carved a niche for himself in the domestic circuit. Mandeep had a decent series against Zimbabwe and this is Pant’s maiden call-up.
With KL Rahul certain to open in the T20Is, either of Pant and Mandeep will open alongside him. Suresh Raina, who was ignored in the ODIs, finds a place in the T20I squad despite poor returns in the World T20. Raina, Yuvraj and Dhoni will constitute the framed middle-order for the T20Is; with skipper Virat Kohli enjoying at his favorite No. 3 position.
Hardik Pandya once again features in the T20 side and along with Jadeja and Ashwin, will be a part of the all-round options. The trio was superb till the 2016 World T20 final, as they offered the team a more than handy package with the ball in middle overs.
Veteran pacer Ashish Nehra too finds a way back after battling yet another injury. Nehra had been India’s best T20I pacer last year as he struck with the new ball more often than not. The control he offered with it made him a complete asset. Nehra’s partner in crime will be the ever reliable Jasprit Bumrah, who was the leading wicket taker in T20Is last year.
All in all, both squads exhibit a complete sense of optimism and positivity. On paper, the squads seem capable of achieving glory with ease but now only the final execution remains. Fair to say, the selectors couldn’t have picked a more balanced side than this currently. A successful ODI series here could well mark India’s charge for the defense of their ICC Champions Trophy title. With veterans like Yuvraj and Dhoni to mentor Virat Kohli, this Indian team is bound for greatness.