If Rishabh Pant excels against Australia in the ODI series, predicts Harish Kotian, then Dinesh Karthik will struggle to make the cut for the World Cup.
The Indian selectors have once again kept things hanging as far as the World Cup is concerned.
The upcoming five match series against Australia -- India's last international ODI assignment ahead of the World Cup starting in May -- was supposed to be the perfect opportunity to test out their frontline players ahead of the mega-event.
Several questions remain following surprise selection calls, especially with the crucial batting positions lower down the order.
In the last year or so, Dinesh Karthik was seen as someone being groomed along for the important role of finisher, especially looking at the 2019 World Cup.
DK didn't disappoint after being called last year for the tour of England, having scored 242 runs from 10 innings at an average of 40.33 and a strike rate of 79.96.
His axing for the ODI series against Australia comes as a shock. DK recently took India to victory in two close run chases with a run-a-ball unbeaten 38 in the third ODI against New Zealand and a quickfire 14-ball 25 not out in a high-scoring ODI against Australia, helping India chase down 299 with two balls to spare.
The only blemish during this time was his failure to finish a T20 game when India needed 16 runs from the final over for victory as he turned down a single and then failed to get the boundaries.
Whether Karthik is still in contention for the World Cup remains to be seen, but if Rishabh Pant excels against Australia, then DK will struggle to make the cut.
The top and middle order is more or less settled with Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan to open followed by Virat Kohli, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Ambati Rayudu, so there is only one possible vacancy in the batting order, for which Pant will look to make a strong case against Australia.
If India include both Pant and Karthik, then they will have to leave out one all-rounder amongst Hardik Pandya, Vijay Shankar and Kedar Jadhav.
Pant has the ability to destroy bowling attacks on his day as he has shown during his short Test career although he is yet to convince in limited overs cricket. Considering that he is new to international cricket, entrusting him with such an important role during the World Cup may not be ideal.
Chief selector M S K Prasad reasoned that the scales titled in Pant's favour because he bats left handed.
'We will try and figure out the best possible batting position (for Pant). Being a left-hander, there is an advantage playing a left-right combination,' Prasad told the media after the selectors met.
Prasad stressed that Pant was not dropped from the ODI team in Australia and New Zealand, but was rested as the selectors tried out Karthik.
Another selection which raised eyebrows was Punjab fast bowler Siddarth Kaul's inclusion for the first two games of the ODI series in Khaleel Ahmed's place.
Kaul played three ODIs in England last year, but failed to pick any wicket while going for over 6 runs per over in all the games.
'Siddharth Kaul has been doing very well in whatever opportunities we have given him for India and also at the India 'A' level. He was part of the mix right from the beginning and we are comfortable with him,' Prasad stated.
Left-arm pacer Khaleel, who made his debut in the Asia Cup last year, has taken 11 wickets in 8 games, but did not take a wicket in the last two games while also going for runs in the three-match T20I series in New Zealand.
'Khaleel has been playing for the last two series, we have seen him and we would like to see Siddharth Kaul also. We have shortlisted about 18 players and we are going to rotate all of them,' the chief selector said.
Among the 18 players, Vijay Shankar looks all set to be make the World Cup team as a seam bowling all-rounder alongside Pandya.
'Shankar's performance in the recent series (in New Zealand) changed a bit of dynamics,' said Prasad. 'He brings in that double impact to the side, that is why we have included him. We will see how he performs in the next few matches.'
With not much gap between the IPL and the start of the World Cup, the team management and selectors must keep a keen eye on the workload of their World Cup bound players.
There is talk that the BCCI may ask the franchises to rest some of the top players -- Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Rohit Sharma, Mohammmed Shami and Virat Kohli -- who have played a lot of cricket recently.
The BCCI's Acting Secretary Amitabh Choudhary confirmed that discussions are on with the IPL franchises on that front. Will the IPL teams rest their top players having paid huge amounts of money to purchase them, especially during the crucial last few rounds of the tournament?