Nagraj Gollapudi is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo
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India's World Cup squad will be named in Mumbai on April 15. The meeting is likely to be attended by Virat Kohli, the India captain who is scheduled to lead Royal Challengers Bangalore in their away match against Mumbai Indians the same evening.
Although the deadline set by the ICC to announce squads for the World Cup is April 23, it is understood that the India selectors wanted the players to have extra time to prepare themselves for the tournament that India last won in 2011 at home.
MSK Prasad, the chairman of India's selection committee, had pointed out as early as in February that his panel had shortlisted a pool of 20-odd players from which the final 15 would be picked. "Maybe one spot might go to the last minute, otherwise we are very clear about the rest," Prasad had told ESPNcricinfo in an interview.
Prasad had also pointed out that the selection panel would not look at IPL form to firm up the vacant spots, "only because we have already made up our minds". "We will only be observing the performances of the players we think should be in the squad and the list of stand-byes. We have rounded up on 20 players. We will follow the form of these players," he had elaborated.
Kohli, too, reiterated the point before the home ODI series against Australia last month, saying the team management and the selectors needed to be "absolutely clear" about the team they wanted for the World Cup. "I don't see anything changing despite how the IPL goes for any of the players. If one or two players don't have a good IPL season, it doesn't mean that they are out of the picture for the World Cup. Those things are not going to matter."
The Australia series was India's last ODI tournament before the World Cup, and they lost 3-2 despite wins in the first two matches. After the result, Kohli had insisted the Indian team was not "panicking". "As a side, combination-wise, we are pretty sorted condition-based," he said. "Maximum one change, you'll get to see condition-based. But other than that, the XI we want to play, we are pretty clear about it."
The questions are likely to center around the No. 4 slot in the batting order and the position of the second allrounder after Hardik Pandya. Vijay Shankar's good form since the New Zealand series has raised the possibility of him slotting in there, instead of Ravindra Jadeja, who has performed that role since the Asia Cup.
Then there is the No. 4 batting slot, the bigger puzzle. Since the 2017 Champions Trophy, India have tried out 11 batsmen in that position with Ambati Rayudu getting the most games. During the home series against West Indies in October last year, Kohli had backed Rayudu for the position, as he provided the balance and had the smarts to do well in that key position. However, since then, Rayudu has just one fifty to his credit, which has allowed other aspirants to queue up. And the number of contenders has only gotten longer.
Apart from Rayudu, KL Rahul, Dinesh Karthik and Rishabh Pant are the frontrunners for the position. Of these, Pant was a late addition to the race. The selection panel believes the left-handed Pant provides a good option in the middle order, especially against bowling attacks that are stacked with wristspinners. Pant has played only five ODIs, but his fearless batting has impressed the selectors, Kohli and the senior team management, as well as India A coach Rahul Dravid.
The one other talking point for the selectors is the composition of the fast-bowling attack. As things stand, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar should be certainties. Pandya could play the role of the part-time seamer, but should India then have a fourth specialist seamer? If that is the case, then the possibilities are likely to be Umesh Yadav and Navdeep Saini, who, the selectors believe, could be a dark horse due to his extra pace and ability to bowl aggressive lengths.