India in Zimbabwe: BCCI likely to turn to fringe players

May 23 2016 11:48AM

NEW DELHI: As the Indian cricket team resumes international cricket next month with a short limited-overs tour of Zimbabwe - as has been the procedure for two of the past three summers - the usual question must be asked: Will the BCCI selection committee pick a full-strength squad or choose, as it has done for the past three years, to allow the regulars to rest and test out fringe players?

Since the advent of the IPL in 2008, barring major Test tours in the summer - with the exception of the tour of the West Indies in 2011 - the BCCI has generally sent second-choice squads on bilateral duties. It picked second-string teams for tours of Zimbabwe around the same time - June-July - in 2013 and 2015 and in 2014 did the same for a short ODI trip to Bangladesh.

A day before the BCCI selectors sit to pick the ODI and T20I squads for the tour of Zimbabwe in June, there has been no serious indication from the board that any of the regular members wish to opt out or that the selectors want to rest anyone. However, considering the volume of cricket the Indian team has played in 2016 and with four Tests in the West Indies to follow, it is likely that some of the big players are given rest as has been the case in recent years.

If the likes of Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan are rested, the batsmen to earn call-ups are KL Rahul, Robin Uthappa and Karun Nair. Each has IPL form and with the possibility of MS Dhoni, India's limited-overs captain, perhaps choosing to skip this series, the selectors could hand the wicketkeeping duties to either Rahul or Uthappa.

In the past few years when Dhoni has opted out of such bilateral tours, the job has been handed to Dinesh Karthik, Wriddhiman Saha and Uthappa. Karthik, the Tamil Nadu veteran, did the job in Zimbabwe in 2013, Saha in Bangladesh in 2014 and Uthappa last summer in Zimbabwe. Rahul, who has kept wickets for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the ongoing IPL and appears the leading candidate, as well as an opening option in the absence of Rohit and Dhawan. Madhya Pradesh veteran Naman Ojha tops the IPL wicketkeeping chart with 18 dismissals but his batting has been decidedly ordinary this IPL.

Uthappa has so far scored 383 runs for Kolkata Knight Riders and could easily slot in as an opener as well. His captain and opening partner Gautam Gambhir heads KRR's batting with 473 runs at 39.41, but it is believed that his time as an Indian cricketer has passed.

Should the selectors look to test out India's spin stocks and rest R Ashwin, the uncapped RCB legspinner Yuzvendra Chahal, who is the leading-wicket taker this season with 19 scalps, is a strong candidate. A left field pick could be Mumbai Indians' Krunal Pandya - brother of Hardik Pandya, who has played 16 T20Is - whose all-round skills this IPL have resulted in 237 run at a strike-rate of 191.12 and six wickets at an economy of 7.57. Other candidates are Amit Mishra and Harbhajan Singh.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar, whose international graph has dipped strongly over the past year, is next only to Chahal in the wickets' category with 18 victims at an average of 23.27 and economy of 7.75. Ashish Nehra is unlikely to be selected as he has been ruled out of the remainder of the IPL with injury, which means that one of Umesh Yadav and Mohit Sharma could get look-ins. Mohit, 27, last played for India in October but has been successful for Kings XI Punjab in the IPL.

Hardik has had a poor IPL, managing just 44 runs and three wickets in nine matches, but could be persisted with for the T20Is. Manish Pandey - whose last international appearance was a match-winning maiden ODI century - is likely to feature. Should Dhoni not tour, Rahane looks the likely man to lead the team.

India's upcoming tour of Zimbabwe in June will comprise three ODIs on June 11, 13 and 15 and three T20Is on June 18, 20 and 22, all to be played at the Harare Sports Club. The current IPL season ends on May 29, leaving the Indian cricket team a few days to recuperate and get together before flying to Zimbabwe.

India's last ODI series was in January, when they lost 1-4 in Australia. They subsequently whitewashed the hosts 3-0 in the T20Is, and have only played that format since.

Probable squad: Ajinkya Rahane (capt), Suresh Raina, Manish Pandey, KL Rahul, Robin Uthappa, Karun Nair, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Yuzvendra Chahal/Amit Mishra, Harbhajan Singh, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohit Sharma, Mohammed Shami


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