There are still five months left for the 2024 T20 World Cup but scheduling in modern-day cricket is so complex, that a few teams, including India, have already played their last T20I before the showpiece event.
Do India have their combinations in place? They will have to announce their squad somewhere during the IPL 2024.
The spin bowling department only bears an unclear picture. The Men in Blue selected four spinners in their squad for the 2021 T20 World Cup played in the UAE. We can see a repeat of that in the upcoming edition in the Caribbean and the USA.
The spots are likely to be distributed between a wrist-spinner, a left-arm slow orthodox spinner and a right-arm off-spinner. The remaining position can go to either another left-arm spinner or a wrist-spinner. In this piece, we look at who is best placed to grab these spots.
Role to define the wrist-spinner’s spot?
Chahal has played 11 T20Is for India since the last T2o World Cup but has also been discarded for India’s last three series (versus Australia, South Africa and Afghanistan), indicating he isn’t in the plans. He is India’s all-time highest wicket-taker in T20Is at present but is yet to play a T20 World Cup. Things will likely stay the same for the 33-year-old.
That leaves India with the headache of picking one between Bishnoi and Kuldeep. Bishnoi has played eight T20Is in India’s last three series, suggesting that the management is looking at him as a clear option. Kuldeep, meanwhile, has managed to play only three of these fixtures owing to the workload management due to his role as the lead spinner in the ODI side.
There is not a lot to separate between the two except their role. While Kuldeep mainly bowls in the middle overs (overs 7 to 15) only, Bishnoi has embraced different roles. Over the last three series, he has both picked wickets in the powerplay and ceased runs. He has bowled a bit in the death overs as well, albeit without any success.
Bishnoi’s flamboyance will provide India flexibility with their bowling plans if they go in with three spinners.
Their bowling speeds will also be in contention. While Bishnoi is quicker and flatter through the air, Kuldeep believes in giving the ball air which has brought him wickets at a quicker rate. The first half of the IPL will play a big part in deciding who makes the cut. There is a good chance both will be picked but a lot rests on the management’s plans about how they want to use their wrist-spin options.
Tug of war between Jadeja and Axar
Jadeja has played only two T20Is for India since 2023 but is Axar’s senior in a like-for-like role and has mostly been India’s first preferred option.
However, Axar’s growth in the format cannot be ignored. Playing seven T20Is in the past three months, he has picked 10 wickets at an economy of 5.9. There were questions that he is not picking enough wickets, and went at over 8 an over in 2022. He has taken care of both facets in this T20I season critical for the World Cup selection.
Jadeja, meanwhile, went at an economy of 9.1 in the two T20Is in South Africa. However, judging him from that series would be harsh given the extreme conditions in South Africa for spinners.
Therefore, Axar has the recent record on his side and Jadeja can have the seniority factor going his way, despite the lack of T20 cricket of late.
Being all-rounders, their batting can be the deal-maker for either of them. In T20s in 2023 (T20Is + IPL), Axar’s numbers are slightly ahead of Jadeja.
Digging further, batting against spin has always been Jadeja’s Achiless heel. In 2023, Jadeja struck spinners at only 115.4 as compared to Axar’s strike rate of 145. Hence, on the batting front, Axar might just pip Jadeja for the World Cup spot. Having said that, it is the IPL 2024’s first half that will decide their fortunes.
Washington pips Ashwin in off-spinner’s role?
The lack of off-spin options has forced India to go back to Ravichandran Ashwin in the hunt for silverware. Ashwin has not played T20Is since the 2022 World Cup and can be considered behind Washington Sundar for the off-spinner’s role right now.
It is Sundar’s record against the left-handers that keeps him floating in India’s plans.
In addition, he provides the batting value as a left-hander himself - exactly the kind of player India have missed from their combination over the last few ICC events.
Thus, Washington seems unrivaled for the off-spinner’s spot for the World Cup unless he injures himself (again), has a poor IPL or India opt for a part-timer as their additional spinner.
Tilak Varma (five overs), Yashasvi Jaiswal (one over) and Deepak Hooda (9.1 overs) are the only part-time spinners to bowl for India since the 2022 World Cup. Hooda last played in February 2023, hinting that he isn’t in the management’s plans now.
Meanwhile, the spot of both Tilak and Jaiswal, as a batter in the first place, is under the scanner with Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli returning to the T20I setup. Tilak can bowl handy off-spin while Jaiswal is part-time leg-break bowler. India haven’t used their bowling services much and that tells us their secondary skillset doesn’t give them any leverage at present.