The world is trying to adapt to the ‘new normal’. Like other enterprises affected by the pandemic, sports will try to make up for the lost time as well. With that in mind, there can arise an unlikely scenario when cricket teams play different formats simultaneously. The focus of our analysis here is to assess the ideal squad for the Indian cricket team for such an occurrence.
We are treating Tests and T20Is as formats of similar importance. Imagine India playing Australia in Tests while there is an Asia Cup T20I final on the same day.
We are looking into only those players that have played a significant number of matches for India in the respective formats since 2018. We are not offering guidance on potential debutants that can be included.
Methodology for Batsmen
Across both formats, we divide the players into top-order (positions 1-3) and middle-order batsmen (positions 4-7).
For Tests, we look into the batting average of Indian players as compared to the base batting average. The base batting average is the collective average of the top-10 top-order and middle-order batsmen with the highest batting average since 2018. The qualification criteria for the top-10 is a minimum of 10 innings in this period.
E.g. the top-10 top-order batsmen in terms of Test average are Labuschagne, Mayank, Williamson, K Mendis, Latham, Warner, Masood, O Fernando, Karunaratne, and Pujara
Top-10 middle-order batsmen in terms of Test average are Babar Azam, Smith, Kohli, de Villiers, Mathews, Nicholls, Pope, Root, Rahim, and Haris Sohail.
Base batting average in Tests: Top-order = 49.5; Middle-order = 51.9
For T20Is, we look into the batting strike-rate along with the batting average. Base average and strike-rate come from the top-10 players that dominate across these parameters among top and middle-order batsmen since 2018.
There is a different set of top-10 players for each of these parameters. The qualification criteria for top-10 remains a minimum of 10 innings in this period.
Base batting average in T20Is: Top-order = 40.8; Middle-order = 42.9
Base batting strike-rate in T20Is: Top-order = 154.3; Middle-order = 154.6
First, we analyze the Indian batsmen based on these base numbers as per their batting position across formats. Post that, we assess players that are competing for a position in both the formats to finalize the format they more impactful in.
Among the top-order batsmen in Tests, Rohit Sharma, Mayank Agarwal and Prithvi Shaw have above-average returns. The same is not true for others. However, Cheteshwar Pujara was the man of the series the last time India toured Australia, which also happens to be India’s next red-ball assignment.
In the middle-order, Virat Kohli and surprisingly, Ravindra Jadeja, have done well. The rest have been mediocre. Rohit in the middle-order is not even nearly as impactful as at the top.
From the strike-rates of all the top-order batsmen in T20Is, it is clear that India lacks a hitter at the top. But, that is a discussion for another time. Both Kohli and KL Rahul have a higher batting average from the base since 2018. While Rohit is low on both parameters, his struggle is lesser in comparison to Shikhar Dhawan and Suresh Raina.
Manish Pandey and Dinesh Karthik occupy the top two spots in the world in terms of batting average among middle-order batsmen with a minimum of 10 innings in T20Is since 2018 (78 and 57 respectively).
Hardik Pandya is the only genuine world-class hitter in India’s T20I squad. Kohli did bat in the middle-order in a few T20Is but, he is more impactful at the top. Come to a big tournament, it is hard to imagine Kohli batting lower than 3 in T20Is
The Obvious Picks
Tests: Mayank, Shaw, Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and Hanuma Vihari earn a direct place as their international exposure is limited to Tests and ODIs in some cases. Some of them earn a place on merit, rest due to lack of other options.
T20Is: Pandey and Karthik are obvious choices for the T20I team. Karthik lost his place in the T20Is against New Zealand in 2020 but based on his numbers, he deserves another chance. Even with less impressive numbers, Shreyas Iyer is one for the future and should make the cut.
KL Rahul: Looking at the numbers, it goes without saying that Rahul is more impactful in T20Is as opposed to Test cricket. He is an assured opener and also a wicket-keeper choice for the T20I side.
Rohit Sharma: With an average of 92.7, he has an impeccable record in six Test innings as an opener. Having said that, all these were in Indian conditions. Even Shaw averages 118.5 in three innings at home. As a natural opener and with experience of opening in away conditions in New Zealand, Shaw can accompany Mayank to open in Tests. Whereas, if Rohit does not open in T20Is, the onus will be on Dhawan numbers are worse than Rohit. Rohit is also the perfect guy to lead this T20I team.
Virat Kohli: He is the only batsmen with exceptional numbers in both formats. It is tough to assess the format he is more impactful in so let us look at what the team stands to lose if he misses out. Even if he misses out of the T20I squad, the team has Rahul and Rohit in the top-order. Whereas, the team has no other world-class batsmen in the Test middle-order. Hence, Kohli should lead the Test side in this scenario.
Hardik Pandya: Being the only proven out and out hitter at the international level in the current Indian side, there is little doubt that he should represent the T20I side.
Rishabh Pant: While a better-suited white-ball player, Pant has a Test century in England and Australia. With Rahul and Karthik as the wicket-keeping options in T20Is, Pant should be part of the Test side.
Methodology for Bowlers
Across formats, we divide the bowlers into pacers and spinners.
For Tests, we look into runs per wicket and balls per wicket of Indian bowlers as compared to the base values. The base value for both the parameters is the collective runs per wicket record and the collective balls per dismissal record for the top-10 pacers and spinners. Each parameter will have a separate set of top-10 bowlers.
E.g. top-10 pacers in terms of runs per wicket: Holder, Olivier, Umesh, Ishant, M Morkel, Roach, P Cummins, Bumrah, Wood and Abbas.
Top-10 pacers in terms of balls per wicket: Olivier, Umesh, Holder, M Morkel, Wood, Ishant, Rabada, S Gabriel, Roach and P Cummins.
Base runs per wicket in Tests: Pacers = 19.1; Spinners = 27.7
Base balls per wicket in Tests: Pacers = 40.0; Spinners = 53.9
For T20Is, we do a similar analysis for economy and balls per wicket
Base economy rate in T20Is: Pacers = 7.2; Spinners = 14.2
Base balls per wicket in T20Is: Pacers = 6.5; Spinners = 15.3
We then analyze each of the bowlers at an individual level to arrive at the format in which they are more impactful.
All the four front-line pacers and the three spinners are in-line with the top-10 Test bowlers in the world. There is no one to single out as an underperformer in Tests since 2018.
In T20Is, the returns for Jasprit Bumrah, Navdeep Saini and Bhuvneshwar Kumar are in-line with the base numbers on the economy for pacers. Deepak Chahar is ahead of the curve on the economy as well as balls per wicket.
Among spinner, Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav and Washington Sundar compete with the top-10 on the economy. Only Kuldeep dominates the wicket-taking front as well.
The Obvious Picks
Tests: Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and Ravichandran Ashwin guarantee a place in the red-ball team purely for not being T20I bowlers for some years now.
T20Is: Chahar, Saini, Yuzvendra Chahal, Sundar and Krunal Pandya make the direct cut as they are yet to make their Test debuts. Even Bhuvneshwar Kumar should ideally be a part of the T20I side since he is yet to play a Test since January 2018.
Jasprit Bumrah: Based on the numbers he performs well in both formats. Slightly more impactful in T20Is if observed closely. But, given the presence of youngsters like Chahar and Saini to go with the experience of Bhuvneshwar in T20Is, he should be a part of the Test team. After an excellent tour of Australia in 2018-19 when he took 21 wickets in 4 innings, India will need his expertise against the might of Steve Smith.
Ravindra Jadeja: Though he keeps the runs down, he is not a wicket-taker in T20Is. With his all-round ability and ever-improving Test bowling skills, he might as well be the first pick in the Test XI ahead of Ashwin.
Kuldeep Yadav: He is the only India bowler who is competing with the top T20I spinners in wicket-taking ability. The same is true at the Test level as well. However, based on his experience of only four Tests, it is unlikely that the management will gather the courage to have him as the first-choice spinner. It is also unlikely that the team will play two spinners at any other Australian venue apart from Sydney. On the other hand, he should be the first choice spinner in the T20I squad.
The Final Squads
These are the 13 players who should ideally represent India in the two respective formats. To complete the squad, the management could pick from the other options in the charts above or try to experiment with debutants. Atleast for T20Is, the option of MS Dhoni is still on the table.