Rahane's top-order chance
Since Ajinkya Rahane's ODI career received an unexpected second wind last year, he has scored 500 runs in 12 matches at an average of 45.45. After struggling to make the XI in the preceding tour of Bangladesh, Rahane has since firmed up his place in the middle order - five of his six fifties during this period have come from No. 3 or lower. Despite his success in the middle order - a position where Dhoni once felt Rahane couldn't rotate strike efficiently from, especially on slow pitches - it is at the top that he truly belongs as his IPL record illustrates. With Rahane assured of at least three games as opener in the absence of Shikhar Dhawan, he has a chance to recapture a slot where he has tasted considerable success.
Suresh Raina has had an interesting 12 months since he last played an ODI. After two solid T20 efforts in Australia in January, he produced middling scores scattered among four DNBs, and an underwhelming World T20. While Raina scored nearly 400 runs in the IPL and led Gujarat Lions into the playoffs, his performance was still a faint echo of the imposing numbers he racked up while at Chennai Super Kings. His recent good performances have come in four-day matches, with two half-centuries in three Duleep Trophy innings.
The portents are good, though. The last time he made a comeback, Raina smashed a match-winning hundred in Cardiff, and cruised into the World Cup on its momentum. With the Champions Trophy less than a year away, he couldn't time his comeback better.
Pandey and Pandya
After years of teetering between potential and performance, Manish Pandey showed up in Sydney and barnstormed his way to a modern classic. Eight months later, he returned to Australia with the India A side and finished as the highest run-getter in the Quadrangular series. With the middle order set to take a definitive shape over the course of a long season, Pandey has the chance to cash in on his first experience of ODI cricket at home.
Hardik Pandya, on the other hand, seemed to have withered away after the initial razzle-dazzle. Unlike Pandey, he wasn't propped up by the strength of impressive numbers in Australia, but it is understood the selectors liked what they saw of him. "Don't go by statistics alone. You still need the seam-bowling allrounder going into the 2017 Champions Trophy in England," a BCCI source said. "Whatever matches we are playing before that he needs to be given a look."
Spotlight on bowlers' workloads
Since the start of the Test matches in the West Indies, R Ashwin has bowled 243.2 overs in international cricket, while Mohammed Shami and Ravindra Jadeja have sent down 154.5 and 134.3 overs respectively. The three of them accounted for 31 of the 56 wickets taken by India's bowlers in the four-Test series in the West Indies, and 32 of the 39 in the ongoing series against New Zealand. By taking stock of their workloads, the selectors have shown foresight to keep their main bowlers fresh in a long season during which India will host England, Bangladesh and Australia.
Dipping into the spin reserves
With Ashwin and Jadeja usually filling the spinners's slots in big matches, Amit Mishra has found it difficult to break into the first XI in ODI cricket. But, with both frontline options rested, Mishra has a rare chance to lead the spin attack. Keeping him company will be Axar Patel, both of who had a fruitful tour of Australia with the India A side, and the uncapped Jayant Yadav. A legspinner, a left-arm orthodox spinner, an offspinner. While Jayant was the team's second highest wicket-taker in the unofficial Tests, Axar finished as the second-most economical bowler in the Quadrangular series. The three of them will vie to become India's first-choice third spinner in future ODI squads.