Kl Rahul The Focus Ahead Of India World Cup Squad Announcement

Kl Rahul The Focus Ahead Of India World Cup Squad Announcement

The long wait for the white-ball keeper-batter’s injury comeback still continues as the selectors meet to name hosts India’s 15-member squad on Tuesday

India’s selection day for World Cups in recent times has involved at least one sticking point – the choice of Vijay Shankar as No.4 batter over Ambati Rayudu for the 2019 ODI World Cup, selection of a half-fit Hardik Pandya for the 2021 T20 World Cup and losing an injured Jasprit Bumrah’s services at the last minute before the 2022 T20 World Cup.

The national selectors would dearly hope the long wait for KL Rahul’s comeback after surgery does not come back to bite them this time with the white-ball keeper-batter likely to be picked in the provisional World Cup squad on Tuesday. The selectors do have until September 27 to make any changes by when India would have played 3-4 Asia Cup matches as well as three ODIs against Australia.

India’s top-order is again expected to be the engine room of the hosts’ campaign for the October 5-November 19 tournament. It is the middle-order that is short of game time, if not experience.

Read More: Asia Cup: Rohit, Gill Hit Half-centuries As India Ease Past Nepal In Rain-hit Tie To Enter Super 4 Stage

The lingering doubts over whether Rahul is as good as before – to bat and keep wicket – cannot be dispelled until he makes a successful return to competitive cricket. Trial matches at NCA may not give the real picture. The Karnataka batter has been out of action for more than four months, since he suffered a thigh injury in IPL that required surgery.

Chief selector Ajit Agarkar recently said it was not his “original injury” but a fresh “niggle” — groin problem – that forced Rahul to miss the Asia Cup group games after he was named in the squad.

Only when he starts playing will Rahul know whether the groin can hold up, while squatting when keeping wicket and batting long under pressure. But is the 31-year-old still India’s undisputed first choice keeper-bat after Ishan Kishan’s impressive 82 against Pakistan in Pallekele in the opening game?

“I wouldn’t want to drop Ishan Kishan. A few things go his way. One is that he is a specialist wicketkeeper. He also brings the left-hander’s advantage,” Sanjay Bangar, former India batting coach, said on Star Sports. “He played a versatile and mature innings against Pakistan. I am in favour of him playing every match.” A view echoed by former India batter and commentator, Sanjay Manjrekar, in his column for HT.

Kishan’s success at No. 5 against Pakistan will allow the selectors to overlook Tilak Varma from the World Cup 15 without having to worry about losing a left-handed option who can navigate the middle-overs.

Read More: Who Will Replace Jasprit Bumrah? Predicting India’s Playing Xi Against Nepal

“Is name more important or form when you want to win a World Cup?” asked 2011 World Cup star Gautam Gambhir while speaking to the broadcaster. Gambhir is mentor at Lucknow Super Giants, the IPL team Rahul is captain of. “Kishan has done everything to become the front-runner. Just because he doesn’t have the same experience, we’re saying KL Rahul should play ahead of him? If it was Virat Kohli or Rohit Sharma in place of Kishan, would Rahul have replaced them? No.”

How to give the Karnataka batter game-time is a big selection headache facing the Indian team management. There’s also the keenness to build on Kishan’s promise. Even Shreyas Iyer, who bats at No 4, needs matches under his belt after his injury comeback at the Asia Cup.

A bold move would be to look beyond Rahul for the World Cup and back Sanju Samson as the reserve keeper-bat. Samson’s numbers at No.5 (5 innings, 104 runs, Avg 52) are good. However, it’s a small sample size.

Read More: Who Will Replace Jasprit Bumrah? Predicting India’s Playing Xi Against Nepal

Before injury, it was Rahul who had looked India’s most settled No.5. His 742 runs batting at that number came in 18 innings at an average of 53 and strike-rate of 99. “At No.5 you will be facing spin, I like the ball coming on to the bat. Rohit is pretty clear that’s where he wants me to bat and he conveyed that to me,” Rahul would say, earlier in the year.

By all accounts, the selectors and team management haven’t lost faith and want to give him as much time as possible to bring that experience to the fore. The rest of the 15-member squad pretty much picks itself with Shardul Thakur expected to get the nod for his all-round skills over pacer Prasidh Krishna. Axar Patel too is likely to make it for his ability to lend batting depth to the team.

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