India might have only played two ODI series in the 12 months leading up to the ICC Champions Trophy but having won both of them, they will go into the tournament with plenty of confidence. This will be Virat Kohli’s first major test as Indian limited-overs skipper and it will be interesting to see how India go about defending their crown.
With a strong batting line-up and in-form fast bowlers, India will go into the tournament high on confidence. With three teams, Australia, South Africa and Bangladesh already announcing their squads for the Champions Trophy, it is only a matter of time before India announce theirs.
With plenty of consistent performers from the domestic circuit and several national stalwarts as well, the selectors will have a tough task on their hands.
Here, we don the selector's hat and try to pick up a squad of 15 players which could eventually make the cut for the trip to England.
After an indifferent start to IPL 2017, Rohit Sharma has slowly started to find his groove in the tournament. The fact that he was coming off a long injury lay-off will have had some role in his slow start but he will definitely make it to the Champions Trophy squad irrespective of his form. Not only because he is one of the best openers in the world but also due to the lack of proven alternatives.
Shikhar Dhawan may have been dropped for the New Zealand series but the fact that KL Rahul is injured and the southpaw has been in sublime form means that he will get the nod. His partnership with Rohit Sharma at the top of the innings, which won Indian the Champions Trophy last time around, will help seal the spot. As will his great start to IPL 2017 where he has already scored over 200 runs in six matches with three forty-plus scores.
A disappointing start to the IPL and a poor run in the Test series against Australia is likely to cost Karun Nair and hand Ajinkya Rahane the backup opener slot. The fact that he can bat in the middle-order as well is an added bonus. The experience that he provides and his ability in the field is likely to secure his spot in the squad, even if he doesn't make the starting 11.
Virat Kohli (captain)
Virat Kohli is undoubtedly in the form of his life. His effortless return to runs soon after his comeback from a shoulder injury just reiterates that. The Indian captain will be crucial to India's chances of retaining the tournament they won in 2013 by beating England in the final.
When Yuvraj Singh was picked for the ODI squad to face England he silenced all the critics with his performance in the series. His career-best ODI score and an average of 70 and strike rate of over 100 were proof that the management had made the right call. With the experience that he brings, he will be an integral part of India's bid to retaining the title in England.
MS Dhoni (wicketkeeper)
He hasn't impressed with the bat in the IPL but ever since MS Dhoni was promoted to No.4, he has batted with a renewed sense of purpose in ODIs. The fact that the burden of captaincy doesn't weigh him down anymore is another added bonus for India.
So he will make the squad, quite possibly, as the only front-line wicketkeeper. Irrespective of his performances with the bat, such is his prowess behind the stumps that he deserves his spot just for his wicketkeeping.
Since the New Zealand series, India have found a new star in Kedar Jadhav. The diminutive batsman from Maharashtra was a big part of India's 3-2 win over New Zealand where he displayed his explosive batting and more useful part-time bowling as well.
So far in IPL 2017, he has continued that good form. With the all-round option that he provides, he is a certain starter in the Champions Trophy, even if conditions aren't likely to be conducive to his style of bowling.
So far in IPL 2017, Hardik Pandya has proven to be an excellent asset to Mumbai Indians. On the field, he has been dynamic. With the ball, he has shown he is adept at both bowling at the start of the innings during the powerplay and at the death. He has also showcased his impressive finishing prowess with the bat.
With two new balls, Pandya will be even more effective at the start in England, where there is more assistance for the seam bowlers. His batting lends more depth to the line-up and it won't be a huge surprise if he starts every game in the Champions Trophy.
R Ashwin might be ruling the roost in Tests but he hasn't been as effective in ODIs. The fact that he hasn’t played a great deal of ODI cricket in the 18 months leading up to the Champions Trophy isn’t a great omen but he is still India’s No. 1 spinner. He will look to prove that by helping India claim back-to-back Champions Trophy titles.
Control is an important aspect of the game in ODIs and Ravindra Jadeja provides that in abundance. He was brilliant during the home season along with Ashwin and although he hasn’t been able to provide that so far in IPL 2017, it is just a matter of time before he gets back into rhythm. And the fact that he lends depth in the batting order is an added bonus.
Impressive performance on debut for India, his consistent performances for the Kolkata Knight Riders and the fact that he provides variety in the spin department are all things that are likely to ensure Kuldeep Yadav’s inclusion. The youngster has an excellent variety and has confounded international batsmen with consummate ease in the IPL and will look to do the same in England.
If there is one problem that India have always had in the limited-overs, it is their bowling at the death. Courtesy of his incredible form in IPL 2017 so far, Bhuvneshwar Kumar looks like the ideal player to solve that. The fact that he can swing the new ball as well makes him an invaluable asset in English conditions.
Jasprit Bumrah might not be having the best of seasons so far in IPL 2017 but his ability to nail yorkers at will during the death overs means he is a no-brainer in the limited-overs squads for India. All he has to do is curb his no-ball problems and India won’t have to worry about conceding a huge total because of poor death bowling in England.
He may not have been the first-choice for Delhi Daredevils and he might only be coming back from a serious injury but a fully-fit Mohammed Shami will walk into the starting XI of any Indian side. He has the whole bag of tricks and will be an invaluable asset when fully fit.
If there is one bowler who continually caught the eye during the home season, it was Umesh Yadav. While there was never any doubt about his potential, he flattered to deceive far too often until his consistent performances through the home season. He made an impressive comeback in this year’s IPL and even if he is unlikely to make the starting XI in the Champions Trophy, he will make the squad that flies to England.