The time has come for India to start making decisions keeping the 2019 World Cup in mind, former India captain Rahul Dravid and fast bowler Ajit Agarkar have said. Speaking to ESPNcricinfo, both identified Nos. 4 and 5, and the absence of a wristspinner, as the two areas of concern for India. They said it was not necessary just yet to drop or look beyond Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni, India's Nos 4 and 5 in the Champions Trophy, where the team finished runners-up to Pakistan. They agreed, however, that India need replacements ready in case either form or fitness desert them in the 50-over World Cup, when both will be 37 years old.
"It is a call that is got to be taken by the selectors and the management," Dravid said, emphasising the decision should not be in the players' hands. "And what they see as the road map for Indian cricket, and where they see the role of both these cricketers going ahead for the next couple of years. Is there a place for both of them? Is there a place for only one of them? Do you want to reassess it in a year's time, six months' time? Do you want to look at the available talent and see what they have to offer before going back to these two players?
"They have taken a decision to go to the West Indies with a full-strength squad. I really hope they are willing to experiment at least in the playing XI and give more opportunities to people. If you don't do that, suddenly you don't want to come to a situation and, say, in a year's time, where you say, 'We haven't given people chances so these are the only guys we have got.' Better position to be in: 'We have tried everything else, but we still feel that Yuvi and Dhoni are fit, they are playing very well, and they are the guys to see us through.' And no one will complain about that."
While Dhoni and Yuvraj didn't really hurt India in the Champions Trophy, Agarkar believed their presence strained the team's playing combination. Some of the teams have pure allrounders playing at No. 6, but India had a batsman who chimed in with a few overs here and there. Agarkar also felt the top three couldn't bat as freely as those in some of the other teams.
"Four and five are pretty evident," Agarkar said. "Virat Kohli played an extra sixth batsman - you have a [Hardik] Pandya with that kind of hitting ability, [Ravindra] Jadeja can bat, [R] Ashwin can bat, Bhuvneshwar Kumar can bat - you still play that sixth batsman as an insurance because you are not quite sure of your four and five. They have been Indian greats - MS and Yuvraj - but whether they fit in at four and five long term, or looking at 2019 World Cup, is something Virat Kohli will have to answer. Those are such key spots that you don't want to then put your team under pressure, or top order under pressure, and then pick a batsman at No. 6 for insurance. I am glad they have picked Rishabh Pant for the West Indies [tour]."
Agarkar felt India couldn't afford to play both Dhoni and Yuvraj in the same XI in the World Cup. "I am not quite sure MS and Yuvraj can both bat at 4 and 5," he said. "It is not because of the final [that I am saying this]; it is almost putting too much pressure on the top three to get the bulk of the runs. Maybe Yuvraj is better off batting lower down at this stage than at No. 4, where he can go and bat freely."
The immediate middle-order options outside the squad - there was Dinesh Karthik in the squad - are Pant, who has now been selected for the limited-overs tour of West Indies, Manish Pandey, and KL Rahul, who can be naturalised if Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan keep doing well as openers. However, there was one man in the XI who almost didn't get to bat: Kedar Jadhav. Dravid said it was time to give him more responsibility to begin with.
"If he wants to establish himself in the side, should he be the No. 4?" Dravid asked. "Should he actually not be sort of almost hiding at No. 6 and actually be given the opportunity to bat at four and see what he can do" If he steps up, great; if he doesn't, then might have to look somewhere else. Kedar Jadhav is batting too low when you have someone like Hardik Pandya, who has been a find, and someone Indian cricket needs to protect and give a lot more opportunities with the bat a lot more. He is bowling his overs. He needs to be batting at four, five in certain games, just so that you can develop him, and to have that kind of allrounder is great for India."
Both Dravid and Agarkar empathised with the fingerspinners R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, but felt it was time to move on. India were the only team in the Champions Trophy to play two specialist fingerspinners in the same XI, and paid for it.
"We are playing on really flat wickets," Dravid said. "It is tough on them, and … it is not happening. If you want wickets in the middle, wristspinners and mystery spinners are the ones who look like taking wickets on some of these flat wickets with the fielding restrictions. It is nice to have Kuldeep Yadav coming in. He needs to be given a lot more game time. He has got ability, he has got a bit of mystery about him."