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Feature

Lots of contenders but little opportunity as India ring in the changes

There's a huge talent pool to choose from, but the challenge is to identify a select few and give them enough chances ahead of the World Cup

Roughly two months ago, when their big-name players were in Australia preparing for the T20 World Cup, a second-string India team played three ODIs against South Africa at home. The world's attention was elsewhere, for the most part, but three players who had previously been on the fringes of India's ODI side made a compelling case for regular selection.
In a rain-shortened thriller in Lucknow, Sanju Samson scored an unbeaten 86 off 63 balls, helping rescue India from a hopeless position and coming close to pulling off a sensational win.
In the second ODI in Ranchi, Ishan Kishan hit seven sixes and scored 93 off 84 balls as India chased down a target of 279 with 25 balls to spare.
In the series finale in Delhi, Mohammed Siraj took two wickets in an incisive new-ball spell that sent South Africa on their way to 99 all out. Siraj took five wickets in the series and ended it with an economy rate of 4.52 - the best of any bowler on either side - winning the Player-of-the-Series award for his efforts.
Samson, Kishan and Siraj weren't going to displace the first-choice ODI options just yet, but with these performances behind them, they may have expected to feature regularly in India's 50-overs squads going forward.
Come October 31, though, and things became… complicated.
India's selectors - who will soon be ex-selectors - announced two ODI squads on the same day. Samson was in the squad for the tour of New Zealand, but not in the one that would travel to Bangladesh thereafter. The opposite was true for Kishan and Siraj.
Other players in the group outside the circle of ODI regulars also found themselves in the same position. Among the batters, Shubman Gill, Deepak Hooda and Suryakumar Yadav were going to New Zealand but not Bangladesh; Rajat Patidar and Rahul Tripathi were going to Bangladesh but not New Zealand. There would be two wristspinners - Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav - in New Zealand, and none in Bangladesh. Among the quicks, Arshdeep Singh and Umran Malik would go to New Zealand, and Yash Dayal - who was injured and replaced by Kuldeep Sen - to Bangladesh.
As things stand, only six players ended up in both ODI squads for New Zealand and Bangladesh.
The job of an India selector is an incredibly difficult one, even before you factor in the threat of being removed summarily and without explanation. Given the sheer number of candidates for pretty much every playing role, there aren't too many straightforward choices, and any decision you make will be both reasonable and - from some highly-talented individual's point of view - unfair.
But the basic logic of selecting squads is to pick the certainties - unless you're resting them - and fill the other spots after drawing up a pecking order of probables for each role so that they get a decent run when they do get their chance.
The selection of the ODI squads for New Zealand and Bangladesh, however, didn't seem to follow that logic. With such a vast assortment of fringe players sprinkled about the two squads, there was every chance that a number of them would end up getting too few opportunities to make any real impression.
This has already happened, with the weather in New Zealand exacerbating the situation, curtailing the bowlers' workloads severely. While Arshdeep and Malik at least got their chance, Kuldeep, who is working his way back into contention after falling out of favour following the 2019 World Cup, didn't play a single game and won't be travelling to Bangladesh.
The case of Samson has sparked the loudest debate. He played the first ODI in New Zealand and made a solid contribution before being left out in the last two games, with India needing to drop one of their batters to bring in Hooda, who gave them a sixth bowling option.
You could argue that India could have left someone else out instead of Samson - Suryakumar, perhaps, given that he'd scored 6, 27, 16, 13, 9, 8 and 4 in his last seven 50-over innings leading up to the second ODI. But it's possible that the team management viewed Hooda as a candidate for Samson's role, which has a heavy end-overs emphasis, rather than Suryakumar's, which is more weighted towards middle-overs skills.
And while Suryakumar hasn't yet brought his T20 success to ODIs, it's entirely fair for someone of his ability to get an extended run. If he can target gaps in the field so brilliantly when there are five fielders outside the 30-yard circle, you'd back him to do so even more tellingly when there are only four, as is the case in the middle overs of ODIs.
While it may have been reasonable, therefore, for Samson to sit out the last two ODIs in New Zealand. It makes less sense that neither he nor Suryakumar - or Gill, who is making a persuasive case to be part of India's first-choice XI, never mind their first-choice fifteen - is even part of the squad in Bangladesh.
With Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Virat Kohli returning for the ODIs in Bangladesh to join Shikhar Dhawan, Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant - the three senior batters who were also in New Zealand - it's unlikely Samson, Suryakumar or Gill would have started that series anyway. If a change were to come about now due to illness or injury, though, it might end up going to a debutant in Patidar or Tripathi.
The likeliest scenario, of course, is that the seniors will take their places for at least the first two ODIs, and that most of the second-rung players will spend a chunk of the series on the bench. And by the time a new selection panel is in place, they will have little recent evidence to go by when they pick the last three or four names - the ones that generate the most debate - in their first-choice ODI squad for India's subsequent assignment. It's not the most ideal scenario, particularly with a World Cup less than a year away.
Between Bangladesh and the World Cup next year, India are scheduled to play at least 15 bilateral ODIs as well as an Asia Cup. While that's a decent chunk of games over which to finalise plans for a major tournament, it would help the hypothetical selectors to begin that process with a fair degree of clarity. As things stand, it's hard to say they'll have too much of it.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo