The seventh edition of the T20 World Cup will be staged from October 17 to November 14 in the United Arab Emirates and Oman due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation in India. The upcoming edition will be the first in five years (West Indies beat England in the final in India back in 2016).
Team India are among the front-runners to win the title this year, but what will India's composition for the T20 World Cup be? India plays three T20Is against Sri Lanka and the remainder of the Indian Premier League 2021 before the grand event. The men in blue will field a team without its premier stars in the three-match T20I series in Sri Lanka as the main squad are all set to play a five-match Test series in England. Selecting the squad for the T20 World Cup is going to be a happy headache for the selectors as there are a plethora of options to choose from. To assess the squad touring Sri Lanka on their chances for the World Cup, we have divided the players into four buckets. In the first, we look at players who need an excellent outing to warrant a look-in for the T20 World Cup. Players who have a 'point to prove'
Shikhar Dhawan will lead team India for the very first time. The 35-year-old has been a regular member of the Indian set-up in the shorter formats, but sneaking into India's top order for the T20 World Cup seems like an arduous task. Here's why.
Dhawan was dropped after the first T20I in the five-match series against England. Ishan Kishan later took his spot, and Virat Kohli promoted himself up the batting order in the last T20I. Kohli also expressed interest to open with Rohit Sharma for the T20 World Cup. He strengthened his stance by opening for Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) in the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2021 before the tournament was suspended. Kohli opening with Sharma almost puts Dhawan out of contention. Also, Dhawan will not be the first choice opener even if the management decides not to open with the skipper. KL Rahul has scored 1557 T20I runs at almost 40 and a rate of 142.2 runs every hundred deliveries while Dhawan has managed 1673 runs at 27.88 at a strike rate of 127.4. Rahul is likely to be chosen ahead of the southpaw purely based on these numbers.
What can work in Dhawan's favour? Dhawan's record in UAE is possibly the only comforting prospect. The opener amassed 618 runs (@ 44.14) at an impressive strike rate of 144.73 in IPL 2020. He was also the leading run-getter in IPL 2021 - 380 runs at 54.28 before the tournament came to a halt. Dhawan's run-scoring rate has been on the rise; the numbers are impressive, but can he beat Rahul to the line?
Yuzvendra Chahal has played 48 T20Is for team India, bagged 62 wickets and has been a vital member of India's limited-overs squad. Since 2019, however, his numbers in T20Is have dwindled drastically. In the last two years, the leg-spinner has played 21 games, picked 18 wickets at 41.7 and conceded 9.1 runs per over. Chahal did not have the best IPL 2021 either. The wrist-spinner picked only four scalps at 47.5 runs apiece and 8.26 runs per over in seven games.
"My performance - I don't think it was a dip in form or anything," Chahal said ahead of the Sri Lanka ODI series. "You can't perform in every match. I will try my level best. This series is very important to me. I have a couple of variations, and I'm focusing on that only. You will see a more confident Yuzi in this series. I'm just working on my angles and, in general, trying to bowl more", Chahal added.
With the likes of Rahul Chahar and Varun Chakravarthy making sharp inroads, Chahal's spot for the T20 World Cup is under serious threat.
Deepak Chahar's short T20I career has been a tale of two halves. The pacer had bagged 14 wickets in his first seven games (including a six-for against Bangladesh) and in his next six, only four. Chahar featured in the T20Is against Australia last year but was sidelined for the five-match T20I series versus England. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who had returned from an injury, was slotted in, and the Sunrisers' pacer helped India win the series 3-2.
However, Chahar's numbers in T20s since 2019 are impressive. In the powerplay (Overs 1 to 6), the pacer has bagged 39 scalps - more than any other Indian pacer. In IPL 2021, the Rajasthan pacer picked eight wickets in seven games, seven of which had come in the powerplay.
He can swing the ball at a decent pace and provide the early breakthroughs, but the crafty operator needs to up his death-bowling game to make a compelling case. Bhuvneshwar struggled in this year's IPL (three wickets in five games at an economy rate of 9.10) and that again provides Chahar with an opportunity.
Plagued with injuries, Varun Chakravarthy has missed out on debuting for India on two occasions. A shoulder injury ruled him out of the T20I series against the Aussies and the spinner failed to clear fitness tests for the series against England.
Chakravarthy is one of six Indian tweakers who have travelled to Sri Lanka, and the 29-year-old will be relieved to be a part of the Indian contingent again. The mystery tweaker finished with 17 wickets at an economy rate of below seven in IPL 2020. The wily off-spinner also started the 2021 IPL season on a good note, bagging seven wickets in as many games. He is the only mystery spinner of eminence in the domestic circuit and his ability to deceive batters makes him a stern contender. India's two best limited-overs spinners, Kuldeep Yadav and Chahal, have been far from their best over the past few months, and this gives the offie the perfect chance to prove his mettle.
While Hardik Pandya is a certainty for the T20 World Cup, the older Pandya, Krunal, has to toil hard to stay in contention. Krunal last played a T20I for India on September 22 2019. The supple all-rounder played a pivotal role in India's 2-1 win against England in the ODIs at home, but his T20 numbers have not been competent over the last two years.
Since 2019, Pandya has scored 634 runs in 60 games. He has averaged 18.65, but most significantly, his strike rate has dropped to less than 125. Jadeja, Pandya's direct competition, averaged 51.82 and scored 152.8 runs every hundred deliveries in the same period. Axar Patel, also of a similar breed, has better numbers compared to the Baroda all-rounder. The three T20Is versus Sri Lanka and the IPL constitute a decent number of games before the World Cup. Will we see Pandya don the blue jersey? One with the tri-colours.
Saini's last T20I international was against New Zealand in February 2020, where he finished with figures of 2/23. Since then, his form has been on the decline. The 28-year-old had a poor IPL 2020. He bagged only six wickets in 13 games and conceded 8.29 runs per over. The skiddy fast bowler just did not hit the correct lengths. Harshal Patel and Mohammed Siraj got the nod for the Bangalore franchise in IPL 2021, and in the only game Saini played, he conceded 27 in two overs. After his debut against the Windies in 2019, Saini had mentioned in an interview that his goal is to be a part of India's T20 World Cup squad. India is loaded with fast-bowling options, and Saini will have his work cut out to get into the team.
The skill-set required to make it to the Indian XI is undoubtedly there but can Saini do it consistently? Deliver time and time again?