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Allrounders the worry for all-round India as selectors meet



New Delhi: The BCCI selection committee will meet in Mumbai on Tuesday to finalise the 15 cricketers to lead India's defence of the ICC World Cup in Australia and New Zealand come February, with one major headache to try and address - who is the leading allrounder? 

Ravindra Jadeja's return home from Australia with a shoulder injury has increased the likelihood of allrounder Axar Patel featuring in the list of 15. While Jadeja is not looking a certainty for the tri-series starting January 16, he could still find a World Cup berth because the BCCI can, as per the tournament rules, replace him in their squad of 15 at a later date. 

Axar, 20, has enjoyed a successful 2014 from the time he found regular playing time for IPL 7 finalists Kings XI Punjab, with his most recent reward being a ticket to link up with the Test squad in Australia as Jadeja's replacement. The Gujarat left-arm spinner has featured in nine ODIs since he debuted in Bangladesh in June, taking 14 wickets at an average of 20.28 and economy rate of 4.49. 

Under Virat Kohli's leadership in the home ODIs against Sri Lanka not long ago, Axar played in all five fixtures while Jadeja got just one ODI, and was particularly successful during the Powerplay overs. That, and his ability as a lower-order batsman, make him a valuable asset to India's defence of the World Cup title. What opportunities Axar gets in Australia during the tri-series also featuring England could well dictate who gets the final nod for the World Cup. 

If the selectors look beyond Axar and towards a seam-bowling allrounder, the prime option is Karnataka's Stuart Binny. The 30-year-old, like Axar, won his maiden India cap in 2014 and has played in six ODIs so far. His sole achievement was recording exemplary figures of 6 for 4 in an ODI against Bangladesh, beating Anil Kumble's previous best of 6 for 12. Binny has yet to wholly convince as a batsman in ODIs, with a best of 25 not out in four innings, and for him to come into the final 15 means it will be as one of eight batsmen. 

And then there is the wildcard option. Yuvraj Singh, Player of the Tournament at the 2011 World Cup, was not named by the BCCI in the list of 30 probables last month but is in the middle of a superb Ranji Trophy season. A total of 520 runs in five innings for Punjab, with three centuries in three matches to go with another fifty, has put Yuvraj in the news for the right reasons. He also offers the team the option of someone who can bowl ten overs in an ODI. The selectors can of course pick a player from outside the pool of 30 submitted to the ICC earlier, but has Yuvraj done enough? 

Regarding the batting, seven batsmen are straightforward picks, starting from the top: Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Ajinkya Rahane, MS Dhoni and Ambati Rayudu. The eighth is trickier: do the selectors go for a specialists such as Manoj Tiwary or Manish Pandey or one who can keep wickets? Or Yuvraj? 

Robin Uthappa looks to be the front-runner as wicketkeeper-batsman because of a lack of powerful options; Bengal's Wriddhiman Saha also featured in the Sri Lanka ODIs and is currently in Australia with the Test squad, but may not be valued as an ODI addition. Uthappa, 29, can open the innings too, and has successful T20 form to show for in 2014. The other wicketkeeping candidate is Kerala's Sanju Samson, 20, earmarked for the future but who does not have good limited-overs form to show for of late. With Ajinkya Rahane the leading candidate for the role of a floating batsman, India could go for a batsman who offers a reliable presence behind the stumps. 

Varun Aaron's expensive Test outings could have hurt his chances of featuring in the World Cup, which means the selection committee must pick a seventh bowling option. If they opt for a quick bowler, the man who could find favour is Haryana seamer Mohit Sharma, who has won Dhoni's faith over the past year or so. Dhawal Kulkarni is also a part of India's Test squad, but he is an outside chance. Karnataka captain R Vinay Kumar and Bengal's Ashok Dinda also have wickets to show for in the ongoing domestic season. 

If the requirement is a third spinner, them one of Amit Mishra or Kuldeep Yadav could get the nod.

MS Dhoni, who retired from Test cricket on December 30, and coach Duncan Fletcher will communicate with the selection committee via teleconference from Sydney, where the Test squad is based. 

Probable World Cup squad 

MS Dhoni (capt/wk), Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Robin Uthappa, Axar Patel, R Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Mohit Sharma/Dhawal Kulkarni
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