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ICC Cricket World Cup
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OPINION

India’s road to England  

With ICC Cricket World Cup just around the corner, cricket fever is all set to get higher with 10 teams battling it out for the coveted trophy from May 30 to July 14 this year

Kalyan Deb

With cricket fanatics all over the world getting their daily dose of IPL action, packed with high-octane performances and nail-biting finishes, it's only likely to get better when 10 national teams clash for the biggest honour -- the ICC Cricket World Cup -- from May 30 to July 14 this year.

The excitement, especially in a cricket-crazy country like India where the sport is somewhat more than a religion, it remains to be the ultimate dream to see their countrymen lift the World Cup.

The Indian selectors somewhat went on predicted lines while naming the 15-member squad. The question for every Indian now remains whether this is the team which has it in them to lift the showpiece event?

It will definitely be interesting to see how the much fancied side go around their task in English conditions especially when the ball is swinging around. Although the Indian team failed to make much of an impact while playing in England last summer, the fact remains that Virat Kohli’s men come into this tournament as one of the prime contenders.

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The Men in Blue have been consistent over the years despite the blip of losing 2-3 at home against Australia during their last tournament, and are also ranked second in the International Cricket Council’s ODI rankings.

Apart from Rishabh Pant and Ambati Rayudu being left out of the team by the selectors, the other players were well expected to make the cut. Dinesh Karthik and KL Rahul have secured their berth and so has all-rounder Vijay Shankar. The selectors have opted for experience over X-factor by naming a well-balanced squad. The rest of the players almost picked themselves with Kohli at the helm.

Dinesh Karthik has made a comeback into India's World Cup squad after 12 years, trumping Mahendra Singh Dhoni's heir apparent Pant in a selection move that is being still debated. The second wicketkeeper was the sole bone of contention for the marquee event and the 33-year-old Karthik's experience of 91 ODIs gave him the edge over the 21-year-old Pant, according to the five-member selection panel headed by MSK Prasad.

Karthik -- the oldest Indian player in terms of international debut was also part of the Indian squad during its disastrous 2007 World Cup campaign. He, however, missed the bus in 2011 and the 2015 editions.

Another notable inclusion is Tamil Nadu's seam bowling all-rounder Shankar, who is expected to be used as a floater in the batting order, especially at the No. 4 position. Shankar, with his "three-dimensional qualities", took the slot which was speculated to go to Rayudu before his dip in form in the home series against Australia and in the ongoing IPL.

India's World Cup preparations had started soon after the Champions Trophy in England two years ago where they had lost the final to Pakistan and it was then that the selectors decided to try out two wrist spinners in Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav.

However, Kuldeep who is expected to lead India’s slow-bowling attack in the showpiece event is going through a bad phase. His poor form in the ongoing IPL could become a headache for Kohli’s men with just a month left before the 50-over tournament. On the other hand, Chahal too doesn’t seem to be in the best of form with his franchise Royal Challengers Bangalore all but out of contention in the cash-rich league.

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Ravindra Jadeja's all-round skills and his ability to be restrictive on dry wickets as well as experience of playing in English conditions came in handy for his selection in the 15-member squad.

The good news although is that Mahendra Singh Dhoni seems to be in red-hot form with some scintillating display in the IPL. Though critics try to write him off, Dhoni is still a force to reckon with at the age of 37. Dhoni has become an indispensable member of India's ODI squad, considering the value he adds to the team as a senior member of the side. Concerns were raised about his batting form in 2018 wherein he managed just 275 runs from 20 matches but Dhoni had the backing of captain Kohli and the team management. Dhoni's inputs to India's young wrist-spin duo of Chahal and Kuldeep has had a huge impact and the former captain's ability to help Kohli out from behind the wickets is proving vital to the team.

With Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, India perhaps have one of most fearsome new-ball attacks in the world currently. Apart from the trio -- Hardik Pandya is certainly good enough fourth seamer. India’s surprise pick Shankar has been picked more because of his batting skills than his military medium, leaving India a bit thin on the seam bowling department on English conditions, which are expected to assist the medium pacers due to the overcast conditions in the month of June and July.

Coming back into a part which has always been India’s strength – batting definitely gives India an upper hand. Despite conditions playing a part, Indian top order definitely gives the country a hope. With Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma set to open the batting, everyone will definitely expect the duo to set the platform. The name Kohli in any Indian batting line-up is enough to send jitters down the spine of opposition bowlers. Holding the number one position in ICC’s Test and ODI ranking for batsmen, Kohli has also shown great leadership abilities which makes him a potent weapon in international cricket.

The 15-member Indian side seems well and good but before the players take the field for their opening game against South Africa at Southampton on June 5, the only thing not required at this point of time is an injury, picked up in the anxious twists and turns of Twenty20 cricket.

Squad: Virat Kohli (c), Rohit Sharma (vc), Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Vijay Shankar, MS Dhoni (wk), Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami.