Next month’s ODI series at home against Australia may well be billed as a dress rehearsal for the World Cup, since it will be India’s last 50-over test before the mega event that starts on May 30 in England. However, that doesn’t mean India will field its first-choice World Cup squad against a struggling Australian outfit.
In fact, the India team management and the national selectors are understood to be mulling over how to rest or rotate some of the key members of the squad during the five ODIs to be played from March 2 to 13, and the preceding two T20Is.
Sportstar understands that the selectors will try and strike a balance of resting senior batsmen, rotating pacers and trying out the back-up options for the World Cup. Rohit Sharma, who led the team in Virat Kohli’s absence, is likely to be rested — at least partially — from the Australia series to spend some time with his newborn daughter.
It will be interesting to see if Kohli, who was rested for the last two ODIs and the three T20Is in New Zealand, plays all five ODIs since the selectors may be tempted to try out a few back-up options. The selection panel headed by M.S.K. Prasad, in consultation with Kohli and head coach Ravi Shastri, is likely to test fringe batsmen like opener K.L. Rahul and Test vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane.
The other back-up options, Dinesh Karthik and Rishabh Pant, are also set to be presented with as much game-time as possible so they are ready for the challenge should the need arise.
The pace triumvirate of Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami is also likely to be rotated in order to help them recover. It will be interesting to see if the wrist-spin duo of Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav are also given a break at some point during the series, to help them rejuvenate for the challenging four months ahead.
While the selectors’ discussion with Shastri after the team’s return is going to be pivotal, the selectors just cannot ignore the fact that the rigorous Indian Premier League is to be played just before the World Cup. The IPL franchises have made it clear that they cannot rest key India players at least in the first half of the tournament.
As a result, the selectors will have to give key players a break to avoid fitness issues during the marquee event.