Indian selectors have recalled opener KL Rahul and picked rookie leg-spinner Mayank Markande as the new face, but they were still unsure about the second wicketkeepers’ slot when they dropped Dinesh Karthik in favour of Rishabh Pant while naming the Indian team for the ODI and T20 home series against Australia. Karthik though was retained in the T20 squad. Starting on February 24, India will play two T20 Internationals and five ODIs against the Aussies, in what will be their last international assignment before the World Cup, which begins in England on May 30.
Returning from suspension, Rahul hit back-to-back fifties for India A against the England Lions in the two unofficial Tests recently. The Karnataka opener was in poor form during the Test series in Australia, but has enjoyed the confidence of the team management as a reserve opener. The 21-year-old Markande was immediately rewarded after his five-wicket haul powered India ‘A’ to an innings and 68-run victory over England Lions in the second unofficial test in Mysuru. The Punjab leggie had impressed the Mumbai Indians in the IPL last summer, taking 15 wickets in 14 games and was touted as the find of the season.
“We are looking at him (Markande) as a back-up spinner. So, we’ve been grooming him through the India ‘A’ process and he has taken a five-wicket haul (against England Lions),” said chief selector MSK Prasad. Karthik played in only the final two ODIs of the five-match series in New Zealand last month, in which he managed scores of 38 not out and 0. Clearly, the selectors and the team management are keen on giving Pant one last shot to book his ticket to England as a specialist-batsman-cum-second-wicketkeeper for the World Cup. In this context, this axing comes as a massive jolt to the Tamil Nadu player’s prospects of boarding the Heathrow-bound flight - a slight surprise considering that he’s performed consistently in the chances that he’s got.
Prasad agreed that his colleagues were sort of ‘auditioning’ Pant and Karthik, to see who fits the bill the best for the World Cup. “Definitely, because prior to this, we had two series in New Zealand and Australia, where Karthik was chosen. Because Rishabh played four Tests in Australia, we wanted him to get a good break. After a 20-day break, he played couple of One-dayers against the England Lions, where he did well, then we sent him to T20 matches. We want to give him a few ODIs before taking a final call,” Prasad said.
In other significant decision, the selectors have recalled pacer Umesh Yadav in the T20 squad. He missed out on selection in ODIs though. By including Vijay Shankar over Ravindra Jadeja, they have also given a clear indication as to who is ahead in the race for the second all-rounder’s slot. The pace attack includes Jasprit Bumrah, refreshed after a break, and Shami, while Bhuvneshwar Kumar has been rested from the T20Is and the first two ODIs.