India want to fix on their middle order as soon as possible. That's the sense one got from Rohit Sharma's pre-match media interaction in Dubai on Monday, ahead of India's opening game against Hong Kong. It's not yet a race against time - they will also have the five ODIs at home against West Indies next month to try a few combinations - but Rohit wasn't thinking so far ahead.
"It is not settled, we all know about it, because there's been a lot of guys who have played at that position," he said. "Going forward we want everything to be settled, but it gives an opportunity to the guys to come and play the cricket they like to play and seal the spot. Nos. 3 [for this tournament], 4, 6 are all up for grabs. All these guys are eyeing that. Obviously, we want to give as many chances as possible to the guys to make sure the No.4 and 6 spot is sealed. As a team we're very much looking forward to that. I am sure all those guys who are eyeing that spot are hungry and want to grab that position."
Given the stifling competition, Rohit also wanted his players to feel a sense of security, which he hoped to provide by allowing in-form players continuity, instead of chopping and changing in the name of experimentation.
"I wouldn't say it is a concern, but if you look at the future, as a captain or player, you want your team to be settled and even the guys who are eyeing that spot want to be settled," he said. "Nobody likes to be dropped and brought back into the squad. We want everyone to be feeling safe and settled, so that they can play freely. Right now looking at all the guys who are eyeing that spot, mentally they look fresh and are raring to go. I guess they're just a performance away from making their claim for that particular spot."
Virat Kohli's unavailability means the team management will have an opportunity to audition more than three players. With Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit likely to open, KL Rahul is set to slot in at No. 3. The No. 4 slot, however, has been subject to musical chairs in recent times. Suresh Raina's failures in England have opened the door for Ambati Rayudu, Manish Pandey and Dinesh Karthik to nail it down for themselves.
On Monday, the team management was clearly mindful of preserving players and not exposing them to potentially three straight days in the heat and humidity prevalent in the UAE right now, but the focus on those auditioning for key slots was visible. Rahul and Karthik batted among the first set of batsmen, before Rayudu had a hit. All of them enjoyed a decent time in the nets against a battery of four back-up bowlers - Mayank Markande, Siddarth Kaul, Prasidh Krishna and Shahbaz Nadeem.
Karthik featured in just one ODI in England and lost his form in the Tests, eventually losing his place to Rishabh Pant. Rayudu, meanwhile, was in the squad for the England ODIs but had to miss out because of a failed yo-yo test. After becoming eligible for selection last month, he hit form for India A in the quadrangular series at home.
There's every chance two among these three will be looked at for the No. 4 spot. Among those auditioning for the role, Pandey was the only one not considered for the England ODIs, but he has forced his way back in after tallying 306 runs in his last four innings without being dismissed while leading India B to a quadrangular series title last month. Outside of these three, the selectors have the option of also looking at Shreyas Iyer and Ajinkya Rahane, who is set to turn out as the Mumbai captain in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, the domestic 50-over competition.
Kedar Jadhav, meanwhile, is looked at as a finisher at No. 6. His handy offspin delivered with a low, slingy arm is an added advantage. Given the nature of surfaces so far in Dubai - slow turn and plenty of grip - there's every chance India will look at a third spin option in the XI.
On the bowling front, India could field a debutant. Jasprit Bumrah hardly bowled at the nets, while Bhuvneshwar Kumar was just bowling off a few paces. Khaleel Ahmed and Shardul Thakur however, bowled at full intensity.
Khaleel, in particular, has been talked about for a while for the pace and hard lengths he hits with his left-arm variety. Apart from calling him into the nets, the team management has fielded him on India A tours all season to give him a taste of top-flight cricket.
"I am quite excited about Khaleel," he said. "Of course he's a great variation to squad. Also, he generates quite a bit of pace. He's young, quite talented, and can swing the ball as well at the same time. I am looking forward to him playing and doing well for the country. From whatever I've seen of him, he can get batsmen into trouble. I can surely say that. He's got a great skillset, it's just a matter of going out there and doing it. Of course, he has not played a game so he'll be quite nervous but again he's got all the tools that are required to play at the highest level."