India news January 5, 2015

A few spots in focus in India's World Cup squad

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Agarkar: Vijay offers genuine opening option

Four slots will be up for grabs when the national selection panel sits down to pick India's squad for the 2015 World Cup. The selectors will also name a squad for the tri-series in Australia, that will serve as a curtain raiser to the marquee event, when they meet at the BCCI headquarters on Tuesday afternoon.

The 15-member squad for the World Cup is likely to comprise eight batsmen - including MS Dhoni and a reserve wicketkeeper - and seven bowlers. Of the 15, Dhoni, Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina, R Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav are set to be picked.

This leaves two batsmen and as many bowlers to be selected for completing the quorum. The contenders for the two batting slots are Ambati Rayudu, Robin Uthappa and M Vijay. Rayudu's century against Sri Lanka in India's last ODI series has strengthened his chances of a place and he can fill the spot of a back-up wicketkeeper.

Both Vijay and Uthappa can step in as openers if Rohit or Dhawan's patchy Test form extends into ODIs. Vijay was roped in as Rohit's replacement in the ODI series in England. His solid batting in the ongoing Test series in Australia will also make it difficult for him to be sidelined.

Uthappa, on the other hand, offers more options to the team management. He is a more reliable wicketkeeper than Rayudu, and had stepped in to keep wicket during the last two ODIs against Sri Lanka. Uthappa can also play in any of the top seven batting positions.

The selectors will also have to take a call on Ravindra Jadeja's place in the team based on the fitness assessment provided by the board physio Nitin Patel. Jadeja would have been a certainty in the squad had he not broken down with a shoulder injury that forced him to return home last month from the Test series in Australia. With Jadeja's rehabilitation still going on, however, the selectors will have to decide if they want to risk selecting a player who is returning from an injury layoff just in time for the tournament.

If Jadeja is ruled out, then Akshar Patel can be a like-for-like replacement. The Gujarat youngster has impressed in his limited opportunities in ODIs so far and has replaced Jadeja in the Test squad in Australia. If Jadeja's rehabilitation is going according to plan, the most likely option selectors could explore will be to include him in the squad and then replace him on medical grounds if his return is delayed.

The selectors will also have to decide whether to go in with an additional seamer or a back-up spinner to complete the squad. The pacer-friendly conditions in Australia and New Zealand may make it tempting to include an additional pacer. India have breaks between all their league games, which gives the bowlers a recovery period.

Varun Aaron was disappointing in the first two Tests in Australia, but is still a favourite should the team management opt for a fifth specialist pace bowler. Similarly, despite having a forgettable Test debut in Brisbane, Karn Sharma still remains the prime contender, besides Patel, if required.

Either Stuart Binny or Mohit Sharma could emerge as a dark horse, though. Binny is the lone option if the team management prefers a seam-bowling allrounder and Dhoni has often cited his preference for a pace-bowling allrounder. Binny had registered the best ODI figures by an Indian bowler in Bangladesh last year and was also handed the new ball towards the end of the Sri Lanka series. Mohit, on the other hand, can be a handful with accuracy to pitch the ball in the right channel.

It is unlikely that the selectors will consider anyone outside the 30 probables. Should they do so, Yuvraj Singh presents an option. The Player of the Tournament in the 2011 World Cup has scored three centuries in as many Ranji Trophy matches this season.

Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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