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Karun in the middle and Kulkarni's latest audition

If he can convert his IPL versatility to international cricket, Karun Nair could be the solution for India's middle-order questions BCCI

Karun Nair

Yuvraj Singh has not played an ODI since December 2013, and it's fair to say India are yet to find an adequate replacement for the middle-order cog he was in his prime. Suresh Raina's 50-over career, meanwhile, is at a juncture where the selectors seem willing to look beyond him - they left him out of the ODI squad that toured Australia in December 2015, and they haven't picked him for the Zimbabwe series either. Ajinkya Rahane has some sort of hold on the No. 4 slot, though MS Dhoni has often left him out on slower surfaces, and Manish Pandey, who scored a brilliant maiden hundred in India's last ODI in Sydney, might have earned himself a long run at No. 5. His Karnataka team-mate Karun Nair, though, could push both of them, if he can translate his all-format versatility to international cricket. Nair is an excellent player of spin, quick on his feet and adept at both the conventional and reverse-sweep.

Kedar Jadhav

India's international success in 2016 was built upon the top-order's dominance. They beat Australia in Australia, won the Asia Cup and were in line to be World T20 champions at home almost entirely because of Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan. Nos 4 and lower didn't really have much to do except pat them on the back, which left them unprepared when those three fell early. The need for a busy and dependable batsman in the middle order has grown with every series India play. Kedar Jadhav showed he is capable of fulfilling that role the last time he was in Zimbabwe. He struck 105 off 87 balls at No. 6 to lift the score from 82 for 4 to a match-winning 276. Jadhav has not played international cricket since that match almost two years ago, but appears one for the future, not least because he can keep wicket too.

KL Rahul

Another option behind the stumps, though it is unlikely he or Jadhav would get to show those skills with MS Dhoni being the first-choice gloveman for the series. The India captain is 34 years old but has the reflexes and stamina of a man ten years younger. Importantly, he has reiterated the desire to stay on in international cricket. So Rahul, like Jadhav, has to plead his case through his batting. He has already been pushing Dhawan for the opener's spot in Test cricket and would want to use this tour to do the same in ODIs and T20Is. Largely an orthodox batsman, in IPL 2016 Rahul showed an aptitude for ramping short balls coming at his nose to the third man boundary and reverse sweeping spinners who sought to bowl flat and tie him down.

Dhawal Kulkarni

He is one of the finest swing bowlers in Indian domestic cricket, with a fetish for performing in finals. His 5 for 42 in the first innings led Mumbai to a Ranji Trophy title in 2016. As did his 9 for 56 over the entire match in 2013. And a second-innings five-for in 2009 pointed to his effectiveness even when assistance from the pitch might be minimum. All of which have helped Dhawal Kulkarni haunt Indian squads in all formats but he has often struggled to make the XI. His last international match dates back to India's last Zimbabwe tour, but with Ashish Nehra's second wind under threat by the limitations of his 37-year old body - he suffered two injuries in the space of one IPL - India must be looking for a skilled operator with the new ball.

Yuzvendra Chahal

He has been a first-class cricketer for nearly seven years, but has only played 20 matches, for an unflattering haul of 37 wickets at an average of 43.97. His record might have suffered for lack of regular game-time, and the reason he has not had that is Amit Mishra, who also plays for Haryana and who also bowls legspin. Chahal has excellent List A and Twenty20 numbers, however, and has shown in the IPL that he is up to the challenge of bowling at M Chinnaswamy, a ground with one of the flattest pitches and smallest outfields in India. India have plenty of spin options, but a good performance in this series could put Chahal ahead of Mishra as their first-choice limited-overs legspinner.