Rishabh Pant, Vijay Shankar and Ajinkya Rahane in contention for World Cup berth, says MSK Prasad

India’s chairman of selectors MSK Prasad has said Rishabh Pant, Vijay Shankar and Ajinkya Rahane are all in contention to seal a place in the ICC World Cup 2019 squad. He said barring the “one odd” position, the 15-man squad has been zeroed in by the selectors. Pant has been labeled as an “a healthy headache”, while Vijay, a batting allrounder, has brought in a new dimension to the selection with his performance in New Zealand.

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Rishabh Pant scored 4, 40 and 28 in the three T20Is against New Zealand. (Source: AP)

“Undoubtedly he (Pant) is in contention,” Prasad said in an interview to ESPNCricinfo. “A healthy headache. The progression of Rishabh in the last one year is phenomenal across the formats. What we actually felt is he needs a bit of maturity now, gain more experience. That is the reason we have included him in India A series wherever possible.”

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Pant has played only three ODIs thus far in a young career – all against West Indies in 2018 – but his impressive form in Test cricket and for India A in the year gone by has received a positive appraisal from the selectors. Prasad admitted that his opinion of Pant has now changed. The left-hander is now being seen as someone who is showing maturity at the highest level and commitment to the team’s cause.

Alongside Dinesh Karthik, Pant was earlier seen as the back-up wicketkeeper for MS Dhoni. However, with Karthik having settled down in the lower order in the past 12 months, the selectors are now looking if Pant can be included as a specialist batsman.

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The place in the side may have opened up due to the drop in form of KL Rahul. Since the South Africa tour last year, KL Rahul has played just three ODIs – all against England – and was recently suspended for his comments and appearance on ‘Koffee with Karan’. The suspension was lifted with KL Rahul playing for India A against England Lions. He scored 13, 42, 0 and 89 in the four innings. Prasad pointed out that KL Rahul remains in contention to make the India squad but needs to pick up form.

In contrast, Shankar has now come into consideration with a promising display during the T20Is in New Zealand, where he was asked to bat at No. 3 in Virat Kohli’s absence. After India lost the third T20I and the series in Hamilton, the Tamil Nadu allrounder said he was “surprised” to bat at No. 3, where he made a 28-ball 43.

Prasad agreed that Vijay would be the fourth allrounder in the pool of 20 players the selectors have drawn up to then further cull the squad to final 15. “In whatever opportunities he has got, Vijay Shankar has shown the skillsets required at this level. We have been grooming him through India A tours in the last two years. But we will have to see where he can fit in the dynamics of this team.”

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Until England tour last year, KL Rahul was being considered as the third opener. With him struggling for form, Rahane is once again being considered an option. Although he has not played in ODIs since last year’s South Africa tour, Rahane has been consistent in List A cricket: 597 runs in 11 innings at an average of 74.62 with two big hundreds and three fifties. Two of those fifties came for India A in the unofficial ODI series against England Lions last month. “In domestic cricket, he has been in form,” Prasad said. “He is very much in contention for the World Cup.”

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