New Delhi: Franchisee pressure is set to have a telling effect on India's preparation for the tour of West Indies as the top layer of World Cup success - which decided to play the Indian Premier League - seems to have made up its mind to give the West Indies tour a miss, turning the IPL into a stepping stone for fringe players to don the India blue.
It was an impending decision following a gruelling back-to-back World Cup and IPL and will force the BCCI Selection Committee to take a serious look at domestic performers, especially in the IPL, for the limited-overs internationals starting with the only T20 at Gros Islet on June 4.
As many as five seniors - Sachin Tendulkar, MS Dhoni, Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh and Gautam Gambhir - are likely to shoot request letters to the BCCI for rest, while Virender Sehwag is scheduled to go for a shoulder surgey after the IPL.
Mulling over the names that can fill those big shoes is going to be an arduous task for Kris Srikkanth and Co. with a number of players throwing up their names with consistent performances so far in the IPL.
The selectors, in all probability, will take a man-for-man approach to pick replacements in the team which is likely to be led by India's mojo man of late, Yuvraj Singh.
Sachin, Sehwag and Gambhir's absence will leave the team without any openers. That once again opens gates for the tried and tested Murali Vijay who should walk into the team on past reputation itself. But what would be difficult to replace is Sehwag's belligerence and Sachin's consistency.
Two men who fit that bill are Sehwag-like Paul Valthaty and Sachin-mentored Ambati Rayudu. While Valthaty has been a revelation at the top for Kings XI Punjab, Rayudu has thrived under Sachin for Mumbai Indians at No. 3.
On the wicketkeeping front, India played with just one (Dhoni) in the World Cup, whose overworked status makes his eligibility for resting most reasonable. But who wears Dhoni's gloves will depend on whether the selectors also want the substitute to bat as well as the Indian skipper.
In that case, Robin Uthappa, who is doing decent wicketkeeping for Pune Warriors, can be the leading contender to board the plane to the Caribbean, closely followed by Parthiv Patel. But keeping in mind Uthappa's explosiveness and flexibility to bat as a floater, the Karnataka dynamite should get the nod.
However, India's major worry could be the absence of leading wicket-taker of the World Cup, Zaheer Khan. It's not a secret now that he is the go-to man whenever the team is in strife. The nut becomes tougher to break considering Nehra too has been sidelined due to injury, which means India need not one but two bowling replacements.
So a fit-again Praveen Kumar is almost a certainty. But Nehra's place could be a toss-up between Ishant Sharma and Laxmipathy Balaji. Both have made decent starts for their new franchises Deccan Chargers and Kolkata Knight Riders respectively but how they finish the IPL holds the key to who gets the recall.
Lack of quality spin options in the domestic circuit means the selectors don't have to look too far to replace Harbhajan. With off-spinner R Ashwin expected to retain his place and none of the leg-spinners up to the scratch, Pragyan Ojha remains the only man in focus.
But one thing that this exercise is sure to do is ignite the club vs country debate, with IPL money ruling the roost and national duty going for a toss.
A run-down of possible replacements:
- Paul Valthaty for Virender Sehwag
- Murali Vijay for Gautam Gambhir
- Ambati Rayudu for Sachin Tendulkar
- Robin Uthappa or Parthiv Patel for MS Dhoni
- Praveen Kumar for Zaheer Khan
- Pragyan Ojha for Harbhajan Singh
- Ishant Sharma or L Balaji for Ashish Nehra