The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) are set to announce a 15-man squad for the 2018 Asia Cup on Saturday. With the 2019 World Cup less than a year away, the six-team 50-over tournament will serve as a perfect platform for captain Virat Kohli and the Indian team management to address certain areas ahead of the mega-event. The Asia Cup, also involving Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and an unconfirmed qualifier, gets underway on September 15 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with the final on September 29. India are placed in Group B with their arch-rivals Pakistan and a qualifier.
The Indian team is currently involved in a five-match Test series in England and has been playing non-stop cricket for the last 12 months. While the top-order and bowlers have been firing on all cylinders, India will look to fix their middle-order tribulation before it gets too late. The Asia Cup will provide one such opportunity to the selectors to look beyond the set number of players. There are quite a few who have been making waves in the domestic circuit and we list five of them, new and old faces, who might find themselves in the flight to the UAE.
"Scoring 2000 runs in a domestic season is not a joke." Indeed, it's not! The Karnataka batsman has been piling up runs for fun since the start of 2017-18 season. He scored over 1000 runs in a month last season. The flow of runs even continued for India A but the national selection is yet to materialise. However, Agarwal kept his head down and continued to let his bat do the talking. After having an impressive English sojourn with the 'A' team, Agarwal also ended up as the second highest run-getter in the recently concluded quadrangular series with 236 runs at a brilliant average of 59. With the likes of Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul already in the mix, it won't be easy for Agarwal to wear the opening boots. However, the 27-year-old is no spring chicken and can give India some solidity in the middle-order as well.
The Indian middle-order currently wears an iffy look and the 28-year-old couldn't have timed his return to form better. After featuring in two Twenty Internationals in Ireland, Pandey only warmed the bench in three T20Is against England. What made it worse was he couldn't even make it to the One-Day International squad that played three games in England. He returned to India and was tasked to lead India B in the quadrangular series. He then didn't just lead his team to the title but also amassed 306 runs in four innings, without being dismissed even once. He has done more than enough to regain selectors' faith and is the favourite among these five to find a spot in the ODI setup. What makes his chances even better is Shreyas Iyer, who captained India A in the same series, only managed 98 runs at a mediocre average of 24.50.
The 32-year-old took the 2018 Indian Premier League by storm. Rayudu, one of the many old warhorses in the Chennai Super Kings outfit, plundered 602 runs in 16 innings and played a key role in helping his team lift the trophy for the third time. He then was selected to play the ODIs against England in July but failed to clear the mandatory yo-yo fitness test. Having cleared the test this month, he was straightaway drafted to the India A squad and the right-hander did not disappoint. While his team failed to qualify for the final, Rayudu stood head and shoulders above the rest, finishing with 187 runs at 62.33. Rayudu is a proven match-winner and can easily be placed at No. 4. He averages over 50 in ODIs which suggest he has the temperament to survive at the top-level.
This one is a tempting option! The elder Pandya can tonk the ball all around the park like his younger brother Hardik but also possesses the skills of playing the waiting game. Krunal is also a street-smart left-arm spinner, someone who knows what his strengths are and is not ashamed to build his game around that. Krunal, who was in the squad for T20Is v England but didn't get a game, can provide India that balance down the order that captains keep talking about. Ever since making his debut for Mumbai Indians in IPL 2016, Krunal's graph has only gone up. He had a couple of good outings with the 'A' team both in England and quadrangular series. It's his attitude that stands out, and is someone who makes things happen. Krunal has got all the shots in his book and can play those game-changing cameos late in the innings. While Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal lead the race to be India's two frontline spinners, it won't be a bad idea to have Krunal in the mix as well.
The paceman from Rajasthan has come a long way since his dream first-class debut where he picked up 8 for 10 in the Ranji Trophy 2010-11. In what has largely been a stop-start career, Chahar received a huge boost in the IPL 2018. Playing for CSK, he scalped 10 wickets in the season and was highly impressive with the new ball. He had a fantastic stint with India A in England - that earned him his maiden international call-up. He did play a T20I against England where he picked up one wicket at the expense of 43 runs. Chahar is also a handy lower-order batsman who can stick around if the situation demands. He didn't pick up many wickets in the quadrangular series but was fairly economical. He has also worked on his death bowling but is yet to be tested at the international level - something which won't work in his favour when the selectors sit down in Mumbai to pick a team for the Asia Cup.