The most heated debate in recent weeks about the composition of the Indian team for the World Cup has been who among Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina will make the final XI. MS Dhoni gave the first clear indication of the Indian team's decision when he said, after the warm-up match against New Zealand, that the in-form Kohli is likely to play at No. 4 in the opening match against Bangladesh.
"Right now it is a matter of deciding slots; it's the No. 4 slot where Virat Kohli needs to bat with Gautam [Gambhir] at No. 3, because to perform to his potential Virat needs to bat up the order," Dhoni said in Chennai. "Raina has done well for us batting at No. 5 and No. 6, still there's a bit of a chance that Virat may get an edge over Raina seeing the current form that he [Kohli] is in."
A starting spot in the World Cup will be a reward for Kohli, who has soared to second spot in the ICC one-day batsmen rankings on the back of several outstanding series. His journey to becoming a first-choice player began with the chances he got in the absence of some of the senior players from one-dayers over the past year. He backed up a match-winning hundred against Australia, in October, with plenty of runs in the home series against New Zealand, before looking the most assured of the India batsmen against the pace of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel in the South Africa one-day series. He was also fluent in both of India's warm-up matches, making 21 against Australia and a brisk half-century against New Zealand.
Raina has been a regular with the Indian side for a couple of years now, but his patchy recent form seems set to cost him his place at the start of cricket's marquee tournament. He has only one half-century in his previous 21 innings, and even the 25-ball half-century he hammered against New Zealand on Wednesday hasn't, apparently, been enough to convince the team management.
Another middle-order batsman whose recent form hasn't been great is Yuvraj Singh, who didn't bat in the warm-up against New Zealand. With India playing only four specialist bowlers, and Virender Sehwag's shoulder problem still preventing him from sending down his offspinners, Yuvraj's regular contributions with the ball will be important to the balance of the side. "Once Yuvraj gets going in a series, he makes it a point that India wins that series; that's definitely a big positive," Dhoni said. "Also being a proper left-arm spinner, he has been contributing in all the games right from South Africa, taking the ball away from the batsmen. It's another big asset that he has got which gives him an edge over the others."
Yuvraj's batting form is shaping up as a big factor in deciding which of Kohli and Raina will play. He will start out the World Cup at No. 5, but could move up a slot if he hits form. If that happens, Kohli looks likely to have to vacate not just the No. 4 spot but a place in the team itself as the management rates Raina as a better player in the lower order, in the subcontinent. "Once Yuvraj gets going and he scores one or two fifties, that will be the time when we will be in a dilemma," Dhoni said, "because that No. 4 slot is very important for us, and if Virat is to bat at No. 5, 6 or 7 then his performance will get affected, because he's the kind of player who likes to spend a bit of time initially and then look to go after the bowlers."
Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo