There’s a popular meme on the internet starring Wario, a fictional character from the Nintendo video game franchise Super Mario. In the meme, Wario looks visibly broken, has his head down, and written above his head are the following words: “I’ve won……but at what cost?”
As news emerged two days after India’s victory over Hong Kong, that Ravindra Jadeja was ruled out of the Asia Cup — and potentially the T20 World Cup — after aggravating a knee injury, one cannot help but think that Rohit Sharma would have felt the same way Wario did. “We’ve won…….but at what cost?”
India’s quest to win the T20 World Cup has not quite been derailed, but Jadeja’s injury has thrown a massive spanner in the team’s works.
The balance he provides the side — much like Pandya, adding a unique dimension — being suddenly taken away has left the management stumped at an awkward time. They’re now having to recalibrate, re-evaluate their plans and scamper for last-minute solutions in order to be prepared for the worst-case scenario which, with every passing minute, looks like it’ll come to fruition.
In the assumption that India will be without Jadeja for the T20 World Cup, we explore the different combinations the side can potentially field, and analyze the pros and cons of each combo.
Note: The Top 4 is assumed to be a lock
Rohit, Rahul, Kohli, Suryakumar, Hardik Pandya, Dinesh Karthik, Axar Patel
This particular combination, which sees Axar fill-in as a like-for-like replacement for Jadeja, will leave the side with six bowling options, and will also provide the team with plenty of lower-order firepower. Axar is no Jadeja with the bat, but across the past two years in T20s, he’s averaged close to 22 (SR 137.3) while striking a boundary every 5.8 balls. His left-handedness with the bat is also a huge bonus.
With the ball, he’s an exceptional run-curtailing option versus right-handers, his ER reading 6.7 (almost as good as Jadeja’s 6.4). The mere presence of Axar — primarily a bowling all-rounder — will also enable Rohit to use Hardik Pandya’s bowling more aggressively, owing to him not being obliged to bowl the right-armer. In all, Axar being a ‘mini-Jadeja’ kind of solves the balance problem for the side.
Axar is a fine like-for-like replacement for Jadeja when you factor-in his ability with the ball and the package he brings to the fore, but though he’s struck at 150 against left-arm spinners since the start of 2019, his overall SR against spin in the last three years still reads a mere 119.75. He’s left-handed, yes, but there is no real evidence to suggest that the 28-year-old could be an effective floater that can nullify spinners in the middle.
Thanks to Axar still being largely unproven against quality attacks, nobody also quite knows if he’s skilled enough to walk in to bat in the 11th-12th over, shield Karthik and delay the latter’s entry point while simultaneously stringing together a partnership with one of the top-order batters.
Replacing Jadeja directly with Axar could hence mean a drop in quality on the batting front.
Rohit, Rahul, Kohli, Suryakumar, Rishabh Pant, Hardik Pandya, Axar Patel
Drafting in Rishabh Pant for Karthik will instantly reduce the side’s dependence on Axar’s batting; there’ll be no necessity for the management to promote the southpaw who, thanks to Pant’s presence, can exclusively bat at No.7. Such a move could very well help the management get the best out of Axar, who of late has thrived as a lower-order hitter. Needless to say, this particular combination will see the side continue to enjoy the bowling benefits provided by the left-arm spinner.
There’s a risk that this particular combo might see the side rely a tad too much on Pandya when it comes to finishing. Pant, who after 49 innings has not hit the ground running in T20Is, has never been a finisher in white-ball cricket, and as handy a batter Axar is lower down the order, banking on him to finish matches off for the side will be a stretch. As mentioned earlier, Axar is no Jadeja with the bat.
Sunday’s clash against Pakistan showed why going in with Pandya as a sole specialist finisher might be dangerous.
Rohit, Rahul, Kohli, Suryakumar, Rishabh Pant, Hardik Pandya, Dinesh Karthik
Pros and cons
Playing both Pant and Karthik together — effectively replacing Jadeja with a specialist batter — will solve all problems for the side on the batting front. This way, India will have a specialist lefthander in the middle-order AND also have two finishers at their disposal. Essentially not a single chink on the batting front.
However, it’ll leave them severely short on the bowling front; Rohit will have no option but to get 4 overs out of Pandya. Since his return to the side, Pandya has shown that he has the ability to make a serious difference with the ball in hand, but going in with the 28-year-old as the fifth bowler will still be a huge gamble; the last 13 times Pandya has bowled in T20Is, he’s leaked at over 9.00 RPO on nine separate occasions.
Rohit, Rahul, Kohli, Suryakumar, Hardik Pandya, Rishabh Pant / Dinesh Karthik, Deepak Hooda
Pros and cons
This is another batting-oriented combination, the one the management opted to go for in Sunday’s clash against Pakistan. On the night, the middle/lower-order failed to click, but the quality of individuals present still makes it a devastating unit. Pant got the nod over Karthik against Pakistan owing to his left-handedness, but Hooda’s prowess versus spin means there’s even an avenue for the management to go with an all-righthanded top six. Since 2021, Hooda averages 53.14 and has struck at 143.63 versus spin, and has been impressive against both left-arm spinners and leg-spinners, boasting an overall SR of 135.7 against the two bowling-types.
The biggest downside when it comes to this combination, again, is the fifth-bowler problem. Though there are, on paper, six bowling options, the skipper will be compelled to get a total of 4 overs from Pandya and Hooda. We’ve already addressed the issue with Pandya’s bowling, and while Hooda has made a fine start with the ball in international cricket, the 27-year-old is a decent part-time spinner at best. Tactically throwing Hooda’s off-spin in for match-ups is vastly different from being obligated to get overs out of him game in and game out.
Combination 5 (Wildcard option #1)
Rohit, Rahul, Kohli, Suryakumar, Hardik Pandya, Rishabh Pant / Dinesh Karthik, Ravichandran Ashwin
Pros and Cons
India also have the out-of-the-box option to replace Ravindra Jadeja with his long-time competitor Ravichandran Ashwin. Ashwin, it can be said, will be an upgrade on Jadeja with the ball in hand, and with the bat, he’ll bring to the fore something very unique: At Rajasthan Royals, Ashwin has shown that he has it in him to thrive as both a pinch-hitter and a pinch-anchor.
The obvious con with playing Ashwin at No.7 (or higher) is that, despite significantly improving in the past 18 months, he is still very limited as a batter in T20 cricket.
Combination 6 (Wildcard option #2)
Playing Ashwin/Axar as a specialist bowler, replacing Jadeja with specialist batter/Hooda
Pros and Cons
Picking this particular combination will strengthen the batting significantly, but the side will once again be heavily under-equipped on the bowling front. Playing Ashwin or Axar as one of the four specialist bowlers will force Rohit to get four overs out of either Pandya alone, or distribute it between Pandya and Hooda.