With three weeks to go for the 12th edition of the Indian Premier League, there is still a bit of international cricket to be played before the curtain-opener between MS Dhoni’s CSK and Virat Kohli’s RCB on March 23rd. West Indies is currently in the middle of a home series against World Cup favorites and hosts England, while India is in the middle of a ODI series against Australia at home. No matter how these series turn out, though, IPL 2019 – which ends only a few weeks before the start of the World Cup – will unofficially serve as an auditioning stage as well as the last chance for a few World Cup hopefuls. While players like Glenn Maxwell, David Warner, Virat Kohli, and Kagiso Rabada will use the T20 tournament as a chance to sharpen their skills and form ahead of the World Cup, there are others who will treat it as a do-or-die cricket game every time they step onto the field.

Here are five such Indian players:

RISHABH PANT (Delhi Capitals)

The 21-year-old Indian wicketkeeper is one of the most explosive batsmen in the world today. He had a superb IPL 2018 season, in which he laid siege to bowling attacks and earned himself many international caps after the tournament. But Pant has oddly cemented his place in the Test team, while consistently wasting his limited-over opportunities in the Indian jersey. He scored a total of 6 runs in the two T20 games against Australia, and has been selected (along with Dhoni) in the ODI side after missing out in New Zealand. The 5 ODIs are crucial to Pant and the management, but the IPL – where he will bat alongside other future stars like Prithvi Shaw and Shreyas Iyer – is where he will incite living-room conversations across the nation with his bat. With MS Dhoni blowing hot and cold as a finisher, it is up to Pant to prove that he can replicate his IPL heroics on the big stage.

DINESH KARTHIK (KKR)

One would say that Pant is the direct rival of Karthik in the context of India’s second-wicketkeeper spot behind Dhoni. But the 34-year-old has fallen out of favor after the tours to Australia and New Zealand and has not been selected in the squad for the current ODI series at home against Australia. It could well be the end of the road for him in Indian colors, but the KKR Captain cannot be ruled out yet. As the leader of perhaps the most resourceful team in IPL cricket, he is emblematic of its culture. He had a terrific last season and will be looking to remain in public consciousness with some big innings for KKR this time around. At least that way he can be the first available choice as backup batsman, and not just keeper, in case anyone from the World Cup squad gets injured.

MAYANK MARKANDE (Mumbai Indians)

The 21-year-old leg spinner burst upon to the scene last season for Rohit Sharma’s three-time champions. He gave a good account of himself. This time around, he will be a capped player, having just made his international debut for India in their 0-2 T20 loss to Australia. He may well be a T20 specialist in the eyes of the selectors right now, but a couple of four-fors may see him, too, be the first-choice replacement in case one of India’s two frontline spinners out of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal get injured. Markande is wily and a fast learner, and could well be a wild card if by some miraculous chance he finds himself on a flight to England.

UMESH YADAV (Royal Challengers Bangalore)

Umesh Yadav suffered in the current T20 series against Australia, losing his team the match in a final-over thriller in the first game. He has fallen out of favor during India’s fast-bowling renaissance. Given that he plays for RCB at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, the erratic fast bowler has his back up against the wall on a flat pitch and small ground if he has to prove to his captain Kohli that he has what it takes to make the final squad. He needs to be quick, fiery and accurate, and perhaps take a leaf out of Bumrah’s book if he wants to join Shami, Bhuvi, and others on the flight to England.

VIJAY SHANKAR (Delhi Capitals)

He may have redeemed himself in the last few months for team India, but one suspects he hasn’t done nearly enough as an all-rounder yet, given the presence of Hardik Pandya in the squad. Shankar may well find himself out in the cold if he doesn’t succeed in the ODI series now, but he can use the IPL in an underdog team to really drive home his all-round credentials. He still isn’t convincing enough as a hitter or a bowler, just about functional enough to do the job but not explosive enough to change a game. IPL 2019, in that context, is the stage for him.

SPECIAL MENTIONS:

R. Ashwin (KXIP), Mayank Agarwal (KXIP), Mohammed Siraj (RCB), Siddharth Kaul (SRH), Shubman Gill (KKR), Prithvi Shaw (DC)

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