By Amlan Chakraborty
NEWDELHI (Reuters) – Opener Lokesh Rahul and stumper-batsman Rishabh Pant are unlikely to sleep much on Sunday night as India selectors prepare to reveal their 15-man squad for the Cricket World Cup.
Chief selector M.S.K. Prasad has told reporters that most of the current side picks itself and there were only a couple of spots left up for grabs for the May 30 to July 14 showpiece in England and Wales.
So while there is not a great deal of suspense hanging over Monday’s scheduled news conference in Mumbai, speculation remains over who will fill at least two positions in the squad.
While India boast a formidable top order that includes captain Virat Kohli, the search continues for a reliable number four batsman.
Pant, Ambati Rayudu, Vijay Shankar, Ajinkya Rahane, Manish Pandey and Dinesh Karthik have all been auditioned in the slot and all have been found wanting.
Rahul will fancy his chances as a back-up opener who can also bat at number four and his four 50-plus scores in the ongoing Indian Premier League could not have come at a better time.
Pant is also angling for a back-up role, behind the stumps, with Mahendra Singh Dhoni installed as India’s first choice wicketkeeper.
A hard-hitter who can also be played as a specialist batsman, the 21-year-old faces competition from Karthik, whose ability to bat anywhere in the batting order makes him a limited-overs asset.
However, Karthik, 33, was left out of the home series against Australia, India’s final dress rehearsal for the World Cup, which could signal a slide down the pecking order.
Former test stumper Kiran More says Pant should be on the plane to England
“If I am the selector, I will take Pant to the World Cup,” More told ESPNcricinfo.
“I will punt on him, definitely, only because he is a match-winner. That is what he has done in test matches, he can win you games single-handedly.
“He is a big-occasion player. He has got the guts to go for his shots, he is ruthless. If it clicks, it will benefit India immensely,” said More, a former chief selector.
Prasad and his selection committee colleagues will also weigh the relative merit of Shankar’s medium pace and Jadeja’s left-arm spin before naming the second all-rounder.
Hardik Pandya remains India’s first choice all-rounder while wrist-spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal are expected to share the slow bowling duties.
India begin their bid for a third World Cup against South Africa in Southampton on June 5.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)