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Pant in The Mix as India Continue World Cup Fine-Tuning Against Under-Strength Windies

Karthik Lakshmanan | October 21, 2018, 8:11 AM IST

One team is finetuning preparations and combinations for the World Cup. The other is in such a situation that they had to struggle to even get there.

It's easy to guess which is India and which, Windies. Virat Kohli's men are ranked two in the ICC ODI ratings, with only England ahead of them. Jason Holder's men have only Afghanistan below them in the top-10 of the same table.

India have 18 ODIs to go before the World Cup next year, and they look at each game as a chance to finalise their starting XI for the tournament. Majority of the side is settled - Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli will form a formidable top three unless something drastic changes over the next few months. Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar will be the go-to pacers, while Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal will handle the spin-bowling duties. Hardik Pandya, once fit, will be the all-rounder. And fairly or otherwise, it also seems like MS Dhoni will be the first-choice wicketkeeper-batsman.

The rest of the line-up, though, is up for grabs. And that's where each game leading to the World Cup is important for India. They'll look at the Windies series, beginning with the first ODI in GUwahati on Sunday, too as a chance to sort out their middle-order combination.

The ones who will be competing for those slots are Ambati Rayudu, Manish Pandey and Rishabh Pant. Rayudu had a good resumption to his international career in the recently concluded Asia Cup. But he batted at No. 3 (and even opened the innings in one game) in that tournament, and will have to give up that slot for the Indian captain. Rayudu is no stranger to the middle order, and will be keen to grab his chances at No. 4.

The series will also be a chance for India to give Pandey a decent run. He returned to the side after strong domestic performances but got only one match in the Asia Cup. He has been preferred over Dinesh Karthik for this series, but he won't be an assured starter given the heavy competition in the squad. He has been left out of the 12 for the first game, with Rayudu likely to bat at No. 4.

The player everyone will have an eye on is Pant. He has already made an impact in his short Test career, and a progression to the ODI format was only a matter of time.

If he can replicate his hitting form, India would have got something they've missed - a swashbuckling middle-order batsmen to partner Pandya. It's a crucial part of India's plans given England, the venue for the World Cup, has produced some high-scoring games in recent years.

Pant is the second wicketkeeper-batsman in the squad, but as opposed to notions that he could be a competitor to Dhoni, his presence in the XI could benefit Dhoni. The former India captain has struggled to score quickly, especially at the start of the innings, and Pant could free him up of such pressures. If Pant can get going, it will benefit India in more ways than one.

Apart from the middle-order combinations, India will also have a chance to look into a few other options in the bowling department. With Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah rested, and Shardul Thakur injured, India have gone back to the experienced Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav for the pace unit. Left-arm pacer Khaleel Ahmed too will be hoping to get a chance, while Ravindra Jadeja will be keen to extend his good run since comeback to ODIs in the Asia Cup.

While India deal with a problem of plenty, Windies have plenty of problems.

The recently concluded series against India suggests otherwise, but Windies have made a little progress in the Test format over the last couple of years. They are the holders of the World T20 and are always a powerhouse in the shortest format as well. It's the 50-over format where Windies have struggled the most. Once upon a team that won two World Cups in the format, Windies had to go through the World Cup Qualifier to even make it to the main tournament in England and Wales next year. They weren't the best team even in that tournament, for they lost to Afghanistan in the final.

Windies have been consistently poor in ODIs over the last year. They were thrashed 0-3 in a three-match series in New Zealand towards the end of 2017. After the WOrld Cup Qualifiers, they played one ODI series, which they lost 1-2 to Bangladesh at home. They come to India with neither form nor big players, for the likes of Chris Gayle, Sunil Narine, Kieron Pollard, Andre Russell and Dwayne Bravo aren't available.

It leaves a massive task in the hands of Holder. The Windies captain impressed with bat and ball in the Hyderabad Test, and will have to lift his team ahead of the ODIs after a demoralising 0-2 loss in the Tests. He has some experienced men like Marlon Samuels and Kemar Roach for company, amid the young squad which also has three uncapped players in Chandrapaul Hemraj, Fabian Allen and Oshane Thomas.

It's a stiff task, but Windies did manage to beat India at home in one one-dayer last year. The challenge for them will be to repeat such performances over a period of time, although it seems a long shot given the forms of both sides. If they can do it though, they would have started a process for their revival in the format where they were once champions.


India: Virat Kohli(capt), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Ambati Rayudu, Manish Pandey, MS Dhoni, Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, K Khaleel Ahmed, Lokesh Rahul, Umesh Yadav.

Windies: Jason Holder(capt), Sunil Ambris, Devendra Bishoo, Shimron Hetmyer, Shai Hope, Ashley Nurse, Keemo Paul, Rovman Powell, Kemar Roach, Marlon Samuels, Fabian Allen, Chandrapaul Hemraj, Oshane Thomas, Kieran Powell.

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