ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 January 16, 2011

Fitness aside, India's World Cup squad almost set

Fitness, and not form, seems to be the current refrain with India, who are going to announce their 2011 World Cup squad on Monday. They have taken every precautionary measure to ensure their first-choice players are fit for the tournament: Virender Sehwag, Praveen Kumar, Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir have all been sent back from South Africa. If they are all fit, or if it is believed they will regain fitness by the time the event starts, this will be a fairly easy selection meeting. Thirteen of the 15 places are sealed, and the debate is likely to centre around the second reserve batsman and the reserve spinner.

If India have everything their way, Tendulkar and Sehwag will be back to open the innings, followed by Gambhir at No.3. The middle order will comprise Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni, Suresh Raina and Yusuf Pathan, with Virat Kohli constantly pushing for a place in the starting XI. Harbhajan Singh will be the first-choice spinner, while the fast-bowler pool will contain the following players: Praveen Kumar, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra and Munaf Patel. Only injury should keep any of these 13 out.

That leaves two places - an extra spinner and a middle-order batsman. R Ashwin, despite being the second-best limited-overs spinner in the country, might get overlooked because India already have an offspinner in Harbhajan, and most of their part-timers are offspinners too. That should make Pragyan Ojha the front-runner for the job - he has performed decently whenever he has been given a chance to play limited-overs games - but he seems to be out of favour for some reason. If the squad selected for the one-dayers in South Africa is any indication, expect to see Piyush Chawla in the side, even though he last played an ODI in July 2008.

Rohit Sharma appears to be the most likely candidate to benefit from the loss of form of the other contenders. Dinesh Karthik, who would have been a natural choice because he can double up as a reserve keeper, has played himself out of the team over the last year; M Vijay has run into ordinary form; and Saurabh Tiwary is too inexperienced to pick for a World Cup. Moreover, Rohit - like Raina, Yusuf and Yuvraj - can bowl spin. The lack of options only shows how difficult it will become for India if everybody is not fit.

India are not likely to choose a reserve keeper, but there is a solution to that. Even if they don't have a reserve keeper in the official squad, they can always have one travel with them in case he is needed at short notice. Since India play all but one of their matches in India, arranging a visa will not be an issue either.

Likely squad: MS Dhoni (capt & wk), Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Praveen Kumar, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Munaf Patel, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Piyush Chawla/Pragyan Ojha/R Ashwin

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo