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The repercussions of going back to Rohit and Kohli in T20Is

Last updated on 01 Dec 2023 | 11:39 AM
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The repercussions of going back to Rohit and Kohli in T20Is

Not only would their return be unfair to the young players, it could also mess up the team combination

* This article was published during the Australia series in December 2023

Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli haven’t played a single T20I since that defeat in the semi-final of the 2022 T20 World Cup. The next T20 showpiece event is around six months away and there is still no official update on their future. For now, all we know is that the two have been “rested” for the three T20Is India are scheduled to play in South Africa this month.

Both Rohit and Kohli lit up the ODI World Cup with the bat, but India have started getting comfortable without them in the 20-over format. The Men in Blue have played 21 T20Is since the last World Cup and have lost only five. They are currently involved in a five-match series against Australia and still have two games to go before they fly to South Africa.

When the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) announced the squads for the tour of South Africa, they mentioned that Rohit and Kohli “had requested the board for a break from the white-ball leg of the tour.” Now, we all know how things work in Indian cricket when it comes to moving on from senior players. So don’t be surprised if there is no official update on their T20I future, at least till the squad is announced for the next World Cup.

But, what if they return to the T20I set-up before the mega event in the West Indies and the USA? If this actually happens, not only would their return be unfair to the young players, it could also potentially mess up the team combination.

What if Rohit comes back?

The 36-year-old, who is officially still India’s T20I captain, operated at a strike rate of 125.95 in the 50-over World Cup. The right-hander batted with a mindset that could even work in T20Is, especially in the powerplay. But then what happens to Shubman Gill, Yashasvi Jaiswal and Ruturaj Gaikwad

Rohit’s comeback won’t really complicate the team combination, however, his presence would mean that only one of the aforementioned three would be able to feature in the XI. It’s also highly doubtful that India won’t have Gill in the XI, meaning Jaiswal and Gaikwad could be the ones left hanging. The latter two are being used as openers in the ongoing series against Australia.

Rohit averaged just 20.75 in the last edition of the IPL. The opener from Mumbai hasn’t played any T20 cricket in the last 12 months except the IPL. And India can’t keep going back to their senior pros for ICC events, especially if they have better options. Each of Gill, Jaiswal and Gaikwad have a T20I century and have already proven their worth at this level.

Gill has been rested for the Australia series, but will be back for the South Africa T20Is. The 24-year-old is averaging 30.4 and has a strike rate of 146.86 in 11 T20Is and is only going to get better. We all know what he did in the IPL 2023, right? If he is at one end, you would want Jaiswal at the other. 

21-year-old Jaiswal is the T20I opener India desperately need. The left-hander is as fearless as they come and has a strike rate of 170.49 in T20Is after 10 innings. In the ongoing series against Australia, Jaiswal has slammed 80 runs in three innings at a strike rate of 205.12. It’s his approach in the powerplay that could win many games for India. 

The sample size isn’t big, but amongst batters from the top-10 ranked T20I sides who have scored at least 200 runs in the powerplay since 2021, Jaiswal’s strike rate of 175.4 and balls/boundary of 3.2 are the best. In his first 10 deliveries of an innings, Jaiswal has a strike rate of 154.05 and would complement Gill extremely well. 

Then there is also Gaikwad, who smoked an unbeaten 123 in the third T20I against Australia. The 26-year-old has been a consistent performer for Chennai Super Kings and has two fifties and a century in his last seven T20I innings. His batting style is very similar to Gill’s, but Gaikwad has done everything in his control to be at least considered as a back-up opener.

Removing any of these three from the T20I set-up would be very unfortunate. Howbeit, it won’t be as complicated as bringing Kohli back into the XI.

What if Kohli comes back?

You can’t have one back without the other, not in Indian cricket, unless one of them retires from the format. Now, there is no harm in admitting that Kohli is a superior T20 batter than Rohit. There are some merits to having him in the T20I XI but it will come at the cost of dropping some really talented batters in the middle-order. 

What happens if both Rohit and Kohli get into the XI? The top-three slots are gone. In fact, make it four. You can’t have a T20I team without Suryakumar Yadav. If fit, Hardik Pandya will also walk into the XI, leaving only one spot open and he will have to be a wicketkeeper. No matter what, you will need an all-rounder at seven - Axar Patel/Ravindra Jadeja.

In 31 of his 32 T20I innings, Ishan Kishan has batted in the top-three and having him lower down the order would make no sense. There is Jitesh Sharma who has been travelling with the team for a while but only has one T20I innings to his name. Jitesh’s inclusion would mean that India would once again end up having five right-handers in the top-six.

Now, who are the ones to miss out? Tilak Varma. Rinku Singh. Shivam Dube. Three aggressive left-handers who have produced phenomenal numbers in this format in the last couple of years. 

Speaking of Tilak, the 21-year-old is a generational talent. In 12 T20I innings, the left-hander has six 25-plus scores and has gone about his business at an average of 40.14 and an SR of 142.59. What’s more, Tilak is also a very decent off-spinner, giving India a rare bowling option in the top-five.

What about Rinku and Dube? If you combine both of them, you will get almost a perfect T20 middle-order batter. While Rinku is destructive against pace, Dube eats spin for breakfast. While Dube could give you an over or two of gentle medium pace, Rinku has unbelievable numbers in death overs and is a livewire on the field.

Dube is yet to feature in the Australia series. Meanwhile, Rinku seems unstoppable. The 26-year-old only has four T20I innings but has already smashed 128 runs at an unbelievable strike rate of 216.94. He has already finished a couple of games for India and it would be a shame if India can’t find a spot for him in the XI.

What’s surprising is that India have Shreyas Iyer in the squad for the last two T20Is against Australia. He is also part of the T20I squad for the South Africa series. That said, West Indies will have surfaces assisting spinners and that’s where Iyer’s batting could come in handy. The right-hander has a strike rate of 148.73 against spin in T20Is. Again, you can’t have him batting outside of top-three.

The Men in Blue can’t afford to have both Kohli and Iyer in the XI. Even if one of them plays, one of Rinku or Tilak will have to sit out. Having Kohli in the line-up could also affect India’s scoring rate, considering there will be at least a couple of slow surfaces in West Indies. Then add Rohit to the XI, India will also miss out on either Gill or Jaiswal at the top. 

No matter what happens, we will have plenty to talk about in the build-up to the 2024 T20 World Cup. For now, all we can do is wait and watch.

India’s possible top-six in T20Is

Without Rohit and Kohli - Gill, Jaiswal, Kishan, SKY, Tilak/Rinku and Hardik.

With Rohit - Rohit, Gill/Jaiswal, Kishan, SKY, Tilak/Rinku and Hardik.

With Kohli - Gill, Jaiswal, Kohli, SKY, Jitesh/Kishan and Hardik.

With Rohit and Kohli - Rohit, Jaiswal/Gill, Kohli, SKY, Jitesh/Kishan and Hardik.

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