India captain Virat Kohli said there is only one spot left to be filled in the team's pace attack for next year's T20 World Cup in Australia, indicating that Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami are almost certain to make the cut.
Kohli was addressing the media ahead of the first T20 International against the West Indies on Friday (6th December 2019).
"The fight obviously is for one spot and I think more or less three guys have made a place for themselves. It's going to be a healthy competition and it will be interesting to see how it pans out," Kohli said.
Referring to India's problem of plenty in pace bowling, Kohli said, as a captain, he couldn't have been happier.
"It's not that big an issue for us. I think Bhuvi (Bhuvneshwar) and (Jasprit) Bumrah are experienced bowlers. They have been very consistent in T20 cricket. Deepak (Chahar) has come in and has bowled really well," he told reporters.
"(Mohammed) Shami is coming back and he is bowling really well. If he gets into a rhythm and specifically works on what's required in T20 cricket then he will be very, very useful in places like Australia, especially with his ability to pick wickets with the new ball. He has enough pace to execute yorkers," he added.
The Indian pace attack looks menacing with the return of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami in the T20 set up.
Shami last featured in a T20 International in 2017, while Bhuvneshwar returns to the squad after recovering from a muscle problem. Bhuvneshwar's last T20 was against the West Indies in the Caribbean in August this year.
The find of the Bangladesh series, Deepak Chahar, has also made a case for himself with his brilliant display in the last series at home.
"Also couple of more guys are under the scanner for sealing that spot along with three seamers. It's a good position to be in because everyone is bowling really well," the India captain said.
India are at the pinnacle of Test rankings and hold the second spot in ODIs. But in T20 cricket, Kohli and his men haven't had much success and are placed fifth in the chart.
Kohli was also honest enough to admit India's problems in T20 cricket.
"I don't think we have been very good while batting first in T20 cricket and defending low totals as well. So those are two things we really need to focus on," he said.
"Having said that T20 is a format where you experiment a lot more things than ODI and Test cricket. I think from that point of view you take a lot more risk in terms of what you want.
"As a team you give a lot of chances to youngsters. So you can't really pinpoint where we stand. Ranking is actually the reflection of the strongest eleven but we haven't really played the strongest eleven together for many games," he added.
Kohli said his team is never worried about rankings.
"For us it's about figuring out who are the players that can make a transition into international cricket and this a good format to see them," he asserted.
"Now heading into the World Cup rankings are going to be irrelevant because in T20 anyone can win on the day. We will probably be playing as close to the eleven that we want in the World Cup for the remainder of the T20 games we have leading upto the World Cup," Kohli said.
Kohli said he expects his players to hit the peak as the World Cup, scheduled in October-November next year, approaches closer.
"It's always good to have challenges as a team and to win a global tournament you need to have all bases covered. T20 is all about being flexible. There won't be a set pattern. We have to be unpredictable," he said.
The duo of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, also known as 'Kulcha', will reunite after a long time. Kuldeep last featured in the shortest format in February 2019 against New Zealand. Besides Washington Sundar and Ravindra Jadeja are also in the squad.
And Kohli hinted that all four could earn a ticket to Australia.
"Having two wrist spinners is big advantage when you are playing in Australia in big fields. There might be some games where both might play together. But in T20 cricket, it's all about balance and predominantly we see one guy playing with Jadeja and Washy (Sundar) because it gives us all kinds of variety in the bowling attack.
"You need to have six bowling options in T20 cricket. That's the basic rule. You can't go with five expecting everyone to bowl four good overs. I think that is the balance we need to create," he said.
Kohli was also all praise for Jadeja, stating he is presently enjoying the best phase of his career.
"He is probably in the best batting form of his life. This is really his best phase as an all-rounder and we want to maximise that," he said.
Pant can't be isolated, here to support him: Kohli
Kohli backed the under-fire Rishabh Pant, asserting that he wouldn't let the young wicketkeeper-batsman feel isolated.
Pant has been under the scanner for a while due to his inability to convert starts and for erratic work behind the stumps. He recently also drew flak for poor DRS calls and several former players stated that he is fast running out of time.
But ahead of the T20 International series against the West Indies, Kohli threw his weight behind the 22-year-old.
"We certainly believe in Rishabh's ability. As you say, it's (also) the player's responsibility to do well but our responsibility is to give him space, to support him. He should get support and it is disrespectful if you don't get it," he said.
"If he misses a chance or something, people can't shout. It's not respectful because no player would like that to happen," he added.
Kohli said he expects the crowd in India to get behind the youngster, who was booed in the home series against Bangladesh last month.
"You are playing in your own country and you should get support rather than always thinking what mistake is this guy going to make. No one wants to be in that position," he said.
"He can't be isolated to such an extent that he gets nervous on the field. If you want him to do well and win matches for India all of us collectively should make him feel like he belongs and we are here to do things for him rather than against him," Kohli added.
Kohli said Pant's match-winning abilities are unquestionable and he has proved that in IPL time and again.
"As Rohit (Sharma) said recently, he needs to be left alone, he is a match-winner. Once he comes good, you will see a very different version of him, which we have seen in the IPL already because he is free and relaxed there.
"He feels that there is a lot more respect when it comes to his abilities and what he can achieve for the team. I think he needs to feel that a bit more," he said.
India and the West Indies will compete in a T20 and ODI series, each of which comprises three matches.
The India captain, however, rejected theories that Pant can be tried up the order against the West Indies.
"Not really," was Kohli's reaction when asked whether Pant can be seen opening the innings.
"In IPL you have eight teams and a lot more players who can play at a lot more positions. You have to figure out who are the best guys to do the job at a particular position," he explained.