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Feature

The Dhoni question, new No. 4 contenders, and Pant v Saha

Ahead of Sunday's meeting to pick the India squads for the West Indies tour, we look at all the issues that might occupy the selectors' minds

Deivarayan Muthu
19-Jul-2019
Getty Images

Getty Images

It might still be July 14 for you, but, hey, the World Cup is over. After being bested by New Zealand in the semi-finals, India will get back on the international grind when they tour the Caribbean for six limited-overs games and two Tests, starting with the first T20I on August 3.
The MSK Prasad-led selection committee will meet on Sunday to pick the squads, and they will deliberate over a number of issues. On the Test front, there could be a toss-up between a fit-again Wriddhiman Saha and Rishabh Pant. There's also the question of life after MS Dhoni, and the eternal issue of the ODI middle order. ESPNcricinfo runs its eye over these and other pressing issues likely to be discussed at the selection meeting.
The Dhoni debate: will he or won't he?
He no longer has the explosive power he once had. Although he made a fifty in the semi-final against New Zealand, Kane Williamson kept him on a leash by unleashing tearaway Lockie Ferguson and left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner at him. There were some uncharacteristic fumbles from Dhoni behind the stumps, too. Pant has been earmarked as India's next limited-overs wicketkeeper. But the big question is, with the selectors likely to rest Virat Kohli for the limited-overs leg, will Dhoni be around to mentor Pant and help him bed into his role? Or is the great finisher indeed finished?
Contenders for No. 4
Head coach Ravi Shastri admitted that the absence of a "solid" middle-order batsman hurt India's World Cup campaign. Vijay Shankar, the designated No. 4 for the World Cup, exited the tournament midway because of a toe injury and is undergoing rehab at the NCA in Bengaluru along with opener Shikhar Dhawan. ESPNcricinfo understands that Vijay hasn't been passed fit yet, and Pant, who flickered briefly in the World Cup semi-final, might get a longer stint at No. 4. A fresh set of players is likely to enter the race in the Caribbean, including current India A captain Manish Pandey, Shreyas Iyer and Shubman Gill.
A few days before the selectors get together to pick the squad, Pandey made a statement with an 87-ball hundred in North Sound that fashioned a series-clinching 148-run victory for India A. Prior to his India A stint, Pandey was among the runs in the middle order for Sunrisers Hyderabad in the IPL and Karnataka in the 20-overs Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy.
Iyer, who is adept at rotating the strike in the middle overs, is also in the mix. He opened the India A tour with 77 in Coolidge and narrowly fell short of another half-century in the third one-dayer. Then, there's the exciting Gill, who was part of India's limited-overs squad in New Zealand earlier this year. If Dhawan isn't fit enough, Gill can open, too, something he is doing for India A in the West Indies with two consecutive half-centuries.
Identifying the next line of seamers
India's gun fast bowlers Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami are likely to be rested for the limited-overs leg of the tour. This gives the selectors and team management the opportunity to identify the next line of fast bowlers. Left-arm quick Khaleel Ahmed, who fell out of favour with the national selectors after the New Zealand tour, is back in contention after impressing with his hard lengths and variations in the IPL. He followed it up with the wickets of John Campbell, Shane Dowrich and Roston Chase in the first one-dayer against West Indies A.
Delhi fast bowler Navdeep Saini, who hit speeds north of 145kph in the IPL where he plays for Kohli's Royal Challengers Bangalore, might get his first crack at international cricket. Khaleel and Saini bowled in the nets during India's World Cup journey before heading to the Caribbean to play for India A, which means the selectors have had ample time to consider their worth.
Deepak Chahar, who was among the standbys for the World Cup, along with Saini and Ishant Sharma, is also on the radar. Chahar was impressive in the IPL where he plays for Chennai Super Kings and the selectors could want him in the T20I squad keeping in mind the T20 World Cup next year.
Who will be the Test openers?
KL Rahul and his childhood friend Mayank Agarwal are set to be India's first-choice Test openers. Prithvi Shaw is currently recovering from a hip injury he sustained during the Mumbai T20 league in May. Dhawan and M Vijay are no longer in frame for Test selection, and the selectors are now keen to keen to test out the fringe players. Gujarat's Priyank Panchal and Bengal's Abhimanyu Easwaran have been pushing their cases for the third opener's position with strong performances in Ranji Trophy as well as for India A. Panchal was the fourth-highest scorer in the 2018-19 Ranji Trophy, averaging nearly 60 with 898 runs in 17 innings, ushering Gujarat to the quarter-finals.
After making an unbeaten 201 against Punjab in Ranji Trophy in January this year, Easwaran produced another double-century against an international-quality Sri Lanka attack comprising Vishwa Fernando, Lahiru Kumara, Akila Dananjaya and Lakshan Sandakan in Belgaum in May. Or you never know, Hanuma Vihari, who has a tight technique, could be bumped up to the top again. He did blunt the new ball in last year's Boxing Day Test at the MCG.
Can Saha find a spot as the second wicketkeeper?
Saha had established himself as India's first-choice Test wicketkeeper during the 2016 tour to the Caribbean, but a spate of injuries has kept him out of international action for more than a year. He has not played a first-class game since the Cape Town Test in January 2018, and his absence has coincided with Pant's rise in overseas Tests. Pant enjoyed a breakout tour of Australia and subsequently bagged a Grade A contract. The selectors are likely to pick both the keepers for the upcoming tour, but who will be No. 1 when the first Test begins in North Sound on August 22?

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo