Dinesh Karthik's experience got him the nod, says Harish Kotian, but Ambati Rayudu's exclusion is puzzling.
The Indian selectors defied expectations when they recalled Dinesh Karthik for the 2019 World Cup, leaving out the exciting Rishabh Pant whose selection in some quarters looked as predictable as the choice of next prime minister.
Many Indians were raving about how Pant could make a difference with his explosive batting and would be the match-winning player at the World Cup.
After DK was left out of India's ODI squad for the home series against Australia, there was a feeling that it was the end of the road for him as far as the World Cup is concerned.
However, the men who matter -- the five national selectors -- decided it would be wise to have an experienced and seasoned campaigner like DK at the World Cup instead of an untested rookie like Pant.
Karthik, who made his ODI debut way back in 2004, has shown great temperament in pressure situations to emerge as a finisher in ODIs in the last year or so.
He guided India to victory in two close run chases with a run-a-ball unbeaten 38 in the third ODI against New Zealand and a quick-fire 14-ball 25 not out in a high-scoring ODI against Australia, helping India chase down 299 with two balls to spare.
His last-ball six against Bangladesh in the Nidahas T20 Trophy final a year ago showed that he is capable of guiding the team home in close finishes.
Pant has not done anything of note for India in limited overs cricket and his sloppy showing with the gloves went against him, a fact highlighted by the chairman of the selectors M S K Prasad, himself a former wicket-keeper.
'We all felt that either Rishabh Pant or Dinesh Karthik will only come into the playing eleven if (Mahendra Singh) Dhoni is injured. So at that juncture, if it is a crucial match, like a semi-final or an important game, wicket-keeping also matters. That is the only reason why we went ahead with Dinesh Karthik, otherwise Rishabh Pant was almost there,' Prasad told the media on Monday, April 15.
The selectors reversed that logic when they preferred young Vijay Shankar for the crucial No 4 position instead of the experienced Ambati Rayudu.
'We did give a few more chances to Rayudu, but what Vijay Shankar offers is three dimensions: Apart from his batting, he can bowl; if the conditions are suitable, overcast, which we might encounter in England, he might bowl a bit and he is a fantastic fielder. That is the thing that went in favour of Vijay Shankar,' Prasad said.
'Vijay Shankar comes in as a batsman who can bowl. We are looking at him at No 4 and with Dinesh Karthik and Kedar Jadhav in, we have plenty of options at that No 4 slot right now,' Prasad added.
Since 2016, Rayudu has batted 22 times at No 4, scoring 742 runs including one century and five fifties, at an average of 49 and a strike rate of 80.
In the run up to the World Cup -- that is in the last one year -- Rayudu has batted in 20 innings at No 4, scoring 639 runs at an average of 42, with a strike of 84.
Rayudu was the highest run scorer in the five-match series in New Zealand in January-Feburary with 190 runs from 5 games at an average of 63. Three successive failures against Australia cost him dearly as he missed out on the World Cup slot.
Shankar made his ODI debut in Australia in January and since then has scored 165 runs in 9 games, at an average of 33, while picking 2 wickets at an economy of 5.61.
He will consider himself lucky to have made the team ahead of Rayudu.
Captain Virat Kohli was present at the meeting in Mumbai along with the five selectors when they picked the 15-member Indian team for the ODI World Cup, which begins in England on May 30.
Another surprising decision was to opt for three specialist fast bowlers, with the selectors happy to trust the bowling abilities of all-rounders Hardik Pandya and Vijay Shankar.
To be fair to the selectors, except for Navdeep Saini and Deepak Chahar who have done well in the IPL, no other fast bowler has done much to push his case.
Umesh Yadav, Siddarth Kaul, Shardul Thakur and Khaleel Ahmed were all given chances, but failed to grab them. Three fast bowlers will travel with the team as reserve pacers and could be called upon in the event of an injury breakdown.
India expects spin to play a part in the World Cup, especially in the second half of the tournament, and hence all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja made the cut.
Jadeja could also come in as cover for either of the spinners in case they fail to get going.
'In the last one, one-and-a-half years, it is these two wrist spinners who have won us games. But there might be a situation where you might require an additional all-rounder in the playing XI, which Jadeja brings in,' Prsad said.
'In the second part of the tournament, where the wickets may be a bit more dry, that is where we felt Jadeja will come in handy and that is the reason why he has been picked,' Prasad added.
K L Rahul doesn't boast of a fine record in ODIs, but his strong showing for Kings XI Punjab in the IPL could not be ignored. While being picked as the reserve opener, Rahul is also a candidate for the No 4 slot.
India have enjoyed some of their finest moments in limited overs format in England -- winning their first World Cup in 1983, then came the Natwest Series victory in 2002 (remember Sourav Ganguly twirling his shirt barechested on the Lord's balcony!), and the Champions Trophy triumph in 2013.
Virat Kohli's team, one of the favourites for the World Cup, could script another memorable chapter for Indian cricket in the UK.
Only seven from the current squad -- Dhoni, Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Rohit Sharma -- featured in the last World Cup when India made it to the semi-finals, losing to eventual champions Australia.
The Indians promised a lot in 2015 as one of the favourites, only to fall short. Hopefully, the ending this time will be happier.