In fact Prasad was explicit that Dhoni remained the foremost wicket-keeper in the country.
Rishabh Pant’s inclusion in the ODI squad against the West Indies (first two matches) announced last week shows that the selectors (I would imagine the tem management too) are in the final process of experimentation for next year’s World Cup.
Pant, who has been most impressive with his dashing batsmanship, albeit in recent Test matches, replaced Dinesh Karthik who was in the team that had played in England.
The selectors have probably seen enough of Karthik and and wanted to check Pant out. The former has been rested and not out of contention. But this position is now for Pant to lose.
The swap also suggests a shift in the job description for some players going ahead. Pant’s hard-hitting and penchant for sixes has identified him as a ‘finisher’, batting perhaps no. 6 or 7 purely as a batsman.
Chief selector MSK Prasad’s reference to Pant’s still developing wicket-keeping skills made this clear. So the young left-hander will be fighting for a batting place unless, of course, M.S Dhoni is injured or unwell.
In fact Prasad was explicit that Dhoni remained the foremost wicket-keeper in the country. This signals that the former’s captain’s place in the World Cup is virtually secure.
The shift from being ‘finisher’ to the bulwark of the batting should also ease the pressure on Dhoni though a return to batting form — he’s had a prolonged run without a significant inning — would reduce any unease in the selectors, his teammate, fans and Dhoni himself.
Pant’s inclusion is not the last major change that the ODI squad might see. Young Prithvi Shaw, who has started his international career in blazing style with a century on Test debut followed by 70 in the first innings of the second Test, is pushing for attention in ODIs too.
Shaw is a greenhorn where age and experience at the highest level is concerned. But he has shown admirable maturity, and has fit himself into the Test team as if he were to the manner born.
Not just has Shaw played a couple of significant innings, his rapid-fire rate of scoring has won plaudits from all quarters. He is not a reckless pinch hitter. His batting is based on sound technique. But he is fearlessly attacking batsman who can destroy attacks.
Originally, as I understand, Shaw was seen as somebody who would be a Test specialist, but has shown the skills to show that he can be versatile and fit easily into limited overs cricket too.
It won’t be easy to fit Shaw into the side at this stage. Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan have been most productive as an opening pair, and K L Rahul finds favour with the selectors and team management to slip into the top order whenever needed.
It is, however, difficult to ignore such prodigious talent and I imagine that the selectors would like to check Shaw out for some matches, perhaps in the ODI series against West Indies itself.
Apart from youngsters Pant and Shaw, a couple of seniors like Ravindra Jadeja and Mohammed Shami have also made a comeback to the ODI side, either because some others have been dropped, are injured or rested.
But in both spin and pace departments, places are at a premium in the ODI team.
Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav have established themselves, so Jadeja has to fight for a third spot which may or may not be needed since the World Cup is in England where pitches are not so helpful to slow bowlers.
Shami, who like Jadeja was a regular in the ODI side till last year, has even more competition since Indian cricket is currently flush with quality fast bowlers, with Bumrah and Bhuvaneshwar clear frontrunners.
The mega ODI tournament is less than nine months away, and India have fewer than 20 lead up games, so one reckons there is going to be intense competition among for the few places that are still open.
This also means that those who are being given a belated opportunity will have to make an immediate impact on the selectors (in tandem with skipper Virat Kohli and chief coach Ravi Shastri), as they crystallise the squad.