THE BIG debate in terms of team selection leading up to the first Test in Antigua surrounds who will partner Murali Vijay to face the new-ball at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium. And when the Indian team management sit down to ponder over whether it should be the incumbent Shikhar Dhawan or the in-form KL Rahul, they will have two senior national selectors chipping in with their opinions as has been the case since the tour of Australia earlier this year. But it will be skipper Virat Kohli who will have the final say.The Indian Express has learnt that Kohli is in favour of Rahul, who last appeared in a Test on India’s tour to Sri Lanka last August. The right-hander, who has two centuries to his name in five Tests, has scored two half-centuries in the warm-up games in St Kitts while Dhawan’s returns have been scores of 50 and 9. And if Sandeep Patil and Vikram Rathour, the two selectors on tour, cannot convince Kohli otherwise, the captain will have the power to veto the selection of Rahul ahead of Dhawan, who was the one walking out with Vijay during the home series against South Africa. But they will have their say when they sit down with Kohli and coach Anil Kumble for a meeting on the eve of the opening Test that starts on Thursday.This will be the first time the selectors will get an opportunity to put their views across while picking a playing XI for a Test. It was a practice that was put in place in January by Anurag Thakur, who was then the BCCI secretary, to make sure that their powers go beyond picking a squad for an overseas tour.“The final call will be with Virat Kohli after all. Selectors will give them options and that will lead to a healthy discussion too in the meeting. It will be the first time that selectors will be part of the system before a Test match. At least they will have some say,” a source said.During the MS Dhoni era, the message was pretty clear to the selectors. ‘Pick the 16 and leave the final XI to me,” or something to that effect. And often selectors on tour would be nothing more than mere tourists and simply watch the captain call all the shots. In the present system, they not only get to contribute to the team selection policy but also get to pick the captain’s mind and understand what he’s looking for in terms of the personnel at his disposal.
Rahul apart, there will also be a number of other calls that will need to be taken, both in terms of team balance and the corresponding make-up of the bowling attack. As expected, Rahul himself isn’t too perturbed by the talk surrounding his recall to the Test XI in place of Dhawan, and he insists on being focused on making the most of his opportunities.“Look that (team selection) is not in our control. As players, we look to prepare well and whenever an opportunity comes, you need to be prepared to go out there and do well personally and also for your team and play to the roles and responsibilities given. There is still a week to go before the Tests. In the next couple days, we will know who is playing and who is not, we will start preparing accordingly. But yeah, not really worried about it. When it comes, it comes and whatever has to happen will happen,” Rahul .