The much awaited announcement of the Indian squad for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 had the usual spice and drama of one or two controversial picks. However, the fact that much of it was along predictable lines was what made it somewhat banal and almost, insignificant.

When the team for the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup was announced, there was a sense of real expectations and even a danger of cockiness as a young Virat Kohli and a vintage Yuvraj Singh declared they would win the World Cup for Sachin Tendulkar. In the end, the maestro had his coveted trophy as India lifted the ICC Cricket World Cup trophy for only the second time in its history.

There was a sense at Monday’s announcement that the Indian selectors were being strung into saying things they themselves were not one hundred percent convinced about. One would expect that the hour long discussion to finalize the team would have centered around three critical issues: having an extra opener, an extra wicketkeeper and an extra fast bowler. In the end, it appears India have left the gambling for places right to the eleventh hour.

The trickiest part was when MSK Prasad, the chief selector, claimed as many as three times that they were looking at the late pick, Vijay Shankar as a batsman who can bowl. Three times he was asked to clarify the role and three times he returned with the idea that Shankar would be looked at as a possible no.4. The fact that there has not been enough time to trial Shankar as a steady no.4 to follow Virat Kohli in the batting line up is what makes this a huge gamble heading into something as serious as the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019.

On the subject matter of the wicket keeper, it was expected that Rishabh Pant, the heir apparent to Mahendra Singh Dhoni, would make the team simply because while Dhoni is the mainstay wicketkeeper-batsman, Pant would have an understudy tour and only ready to play when the opportunity would present itself in an unusual scenario. To that end, it seemed wiser for India to look ahead rather than backward and instead of looking at Dinesh Karthik, would look at Pant to make the cut for the feisty, explosive addition.

Instead Dinesh Karthik is living nine lives as far as his stints with the Indian cricket team is concerned. The reason was a little tricky as explained by MSK Prasad. Whether Karthik would be considered at no.4 if Shankar fails or whether Karthik would only be picked if Dhoni was unavailable for some reason, begs the question if Pant could not be used for the latter role in any case. There is a sense that having played Pant in the Test series, he would have perhaps been a bit more hungry and ready for greater challenges than Karthik who has not played in Indian colours for six months going into the ICC Cricket World Cup.

Ambati Rayudu, widely considered to have booked his berth a year back, must think otherwise. Rayudu does not have Karthik’s luck and Prasad was hard pressed to be kind on the wicketkeeper-batsman who was expected to bolster the batting line up which was beginning to look a little fragile at the tail end. In the end, Rayudu could argue his form was no better than Karthik’s because there was none to compare in the last six months.

India would have been in a real dilemma about whether to pack the additional seamer, particularly in the early stages of the English summer. But India appear to have included Shankar and Hardik Pandya as a way to add an additional seamer or fast medium bowler to the lineup. It appears in the end Shankar may have got the nod simply because of the selector’s own definition of Shankar’s role in the team as an all-rounder.

Much like India’s recent results against Australia, there is a sense of a gap between India’s best team line up and India’s current favourites going by the skipper and the selection panel. Whether India are taking their circumspect choices into the ICC Cricket World Cup or whether they are playing calculated risks, only time will tell.

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