Champion teams have always shown the ability to innovate and explore options. Rohit Sharma needs to perform this balancing act wisely when shortlisting the playing XI in the World Cup.
The 15-member squad announced by chief selector Ajit Agarkar in Pallekele on Tuesday includes five batters, two all-rounders, two wicket-keepers, four pacers and two spinners (See box). Prasidh Krishna and Tilak Varma have been left out from the Asia Cup squad along with reserve Sanju Samson.
It was learnt that the trio have been included among the reserves for the World Cup along with Ravichandran Ashwin.
India are expected to play six bowlers, including Hardik Pandya, but over-reliance on the top order and lack of batting options in the lower half could weigh heavily on the team in a crisis.
India haven’t won an ICC event since the 2013 Champions Trophy and their poor team selection in knockout stages has been largely responsible for the drought.
While Pandya’s presence will give them the cushion of six bowlers, Sourav Ganguly’s 2003 final-making team or Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s 2011 winning squad had several options.
Dhoni’s champion side had the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh and Virender Sehwag as part-timers. Only four specialists were fielded in the final against Sri Lanka as Dhoni tried out seven bowlers at the Wankhede, including an over from Virat Kohli.
Sourav too enjoyed such luxury with at least nine first XI players regularly picking wickets in international cricket. Eight of them got a chance to bowl in that ill-fated final at the Wanderers when Adam Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting ran riot.
The circumstances are vastly different now. A long tail, starting from No.8, is never considered ideal for any team in the limited-overs format, prompting the selectors to include Shardul Thakur.
Going by what Rohit said at the news conference, Shardul’s presence is inevitable to add batting depth. However, one among Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj will have to miss out in the event of a three-pronged pace attack.
The captain too harped on the need for the lower order to contribute with the bat.
“You need both bowling and batting depth. We need to create that depth and we found that it was lacking in our team for the last few years. When we talk about depth in batting, that No.9, No.8 positions become crucial,” he said.
“In the first game here (Asia Cup) we saw that we fell short in the backend. We want tailenders to contribute too. Another 10-15 runs in that game (vs Pakistan) would have made a difference. That is the margin between winning and losing. We have spoken to them about that role in the World Cup,” he said.
Shardul, whose economy of 6.17 is the worst among the four pacers, was included ahead of Shami in the opener against Pakistan in Pallekele. The think-tank will continue with that ploy in the World Cup to prop up the lower order.
The fitness concerns over the comeback men — KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer and Bumrah — will remain. Bumrah hasn’t bowled 10 overs in an international since his return and his recovery after a full stint will be closely monitored.
Teams though can make changes to the squad until September 28 without seeking the ICC’s approval.