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Team India look for answers as road to T20 World Cup begins

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Last updated on 07 Jun 2022 | 01:24 PM
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Team India look for answers as road to T20 World Cup begins

There are plenty of intriguing sub-plots in this seemingly inconsequential T20I series against the Proteas

The IPL ended less than 10 days ago, but here we are again, talking about, erm, T20 cricket. Indeed, the merciless nature of the cricketing calendar means that it’s time to move on to the next assignment already, so the focus now shifts to the five-match T20I series between India and South Africa. 

On paper, this might seem like a pretty inconsequential series from an Indian perspective — because of its timing and given most of the big guns are being rested — but in all honesty, in a World Cup year, no match is insignificant. Bilateral games like these are an opportunity for sides to learn more about themselves by experimenting and so team India, one suspects, will be keen to walk away with fresh learnings that will aid them in their quest to win the T20 World Cup in Australia. 

Assuming Dravid & Co. will be approaching the South Africa series with more than one eye on the T20WC, we look at the things the management will be keeping close tabs on.

ALSO READ: Key takeaways from India’s squad for the South Africa T20Is

How will Hardik Pandya’s transition back to ‘finisher’ go?

In IPL 2022, Hardik Pandya played the role of an anchor for the Gujarat Titans, batted in the Top 4 for the franchise and did an astounding job, scoring nearly 500 runs at an average of 44. But with a gazillion anchors present in the side already, all team India care about, really, is if Pandya can still be lethal as a finisher. 

Truth be told, the jury on that is still out. 

As much as Pandya excelled as an anchor in IPL 2022, the 28-year-old rarely ‘exploded’ and unleashed his peak, destructive self.  He was exceptional at accumulating runs, but never quite mauled bowling attacks, particularly in the death overs. In fact, among all batters who scored 100 or more runs in overs 16-20 in IPL 2022, only Kieron Pollard (125) scored at a slower strike rate than Pandya (140), who more often than not either failed to close out games, or played second fiddle to the Millers and Tewatias. 

Given Pandya had a forgettable 2021 — in which he operated as a finisher through and through — Dravid & co. would certainly keep a close eye on the right-hander’s transition back to the finisher role. 

Can Deepak Hooda make a case for being a potential Suryakumar Yadav backup?

When the selectors announced the squad for the South Africa T20Is, there was collective shock when Rahul Tripathi, the best performing No.3 of IPL 2022, failed to make the cut. In a way, Tripathi’s omission tended to suggest that the selectors had picked Deepak Hooda not simply due to him being an ‘all-rounder’, but because they saw him as a genuine middle-order batting option.

Hooda batted predominantly in the Top 4 for Lucknow Super Giants and did an exceptional job, accumulating 451 runs at a strike rate of 136.66.  

Come the South Africa series, team India will certainly be keen to see if the right-hander has it in him to replicate the success at the international level and throw his name in the hat for being a potential Suryakumar Yadav backup. 

What makes Suryakumar standout is his sheer versatility, and in IPL 2022, Hooda showed that he has it in him to be an all-round T20 batter. The right-hander was adept versus both pace and spin (SR of 134 and 139 respectively), showed that he can be an anchor, counter-puncher and basher and also fit into multiple positions seamlessly. That he can bowl off-spin and double-up as a sixth bowler is a bonus on top of all this. 

It goes without saying that Suryakumar is India’s most important T20 batter; he is irreplaceable, and losing him ahead of the T20WC would be catastrophic. But on the back of an impressive IPL 2022, Deepak Hooda has a chance to push himself higher in the pecking order. 

Kuldeep Yadav, Ravi Bishnoi locked in battle for second wrist-spinner slot 

It is highly unlikely that team India will be taking 3 wrist-spinners to Australia. In that case, with Yuzvendra Chahal all but locked in as the team’s first-choice spinner, the forthcoming South Africa series can perhaps be seen as the start of the start of the Kuldeep Yadav - Ravi Bishnoi tussle for the second wrist-spinner’s slot in the fifteen.

When team India last played a T20 International, Bishnoi had a significant lead over Kuldeep, who was barely in the picture. But Bishnoi’s indifferent IPL 2022 (and Kuldeep’s resurgence) has narrowed the gap, and now the left-arm wrist-spinner is breathing down the neck of the 21-year-old.

Bishnoi will still, in all likelihood, start the South Africa T20Is ahead of Kuldeep due to being the incumbent, but the youngster no longer has any margin for error. The 21-year-old will begin the series with a head start, but Kuldeep overtaking him before the end of the series is a possibility that cannot be ruled out. 

Longer boundaries in Australia, and prior experience of playing T20 cricket Down Under, are two factors that could end up working in favour of the left-arm wrist-spinner. 

Will India be able to fit Dinesh Karthik in?

India have picked the 37-year-old Dinesh Karthik but where will they play him? How will they get the best out of him considering the umpteen number of wicketkeeper options in the squad? While India have picked Karthik, they would have to tinker around with their combination to fit the RCB star in.

Can India afford to do that? Karthik’s return will depend on the number of overs that the all-rounders can give to the team during the five-match series against South Africa. Given that the top five is set, it makes it extremely tough to pick Karthik. 

And if he does get picked, the right-hander would have to bat as low as No.7 considering the batting options ahead of him. It would be interesting to see how India use him but if they are intending to maximize on the potential, they will have to bat him to his strength. 

At the death (overs 16-20), Karthik scored 251 runs in IPL 2022, striking at 207.44, possessing one of the best blades in the tournament during that phase. Given how South Africa have perennially bowled pacers at the death, using him in that role might just yield the best result for the team. 

For Arshdeep, Avesh and Umran Malik, it’s all to play for 

If we’re being honest, team India’s pace-attack for the T20 World Cup looks all but fixed: Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah and Harshal Patel. Throw in Hardik Pandya into the mix and you have a solid, well-rounded pace battery that, at least on paper, looks formidable. This, you could say, is the first-choice attack.

But with Deepak Chahar completely out of the picture with injury, Mohammed Siraj bowling himself out of contention and Mohammed Shami’s T20I future remaining a mystery, there are at least a couple of spots in the squad up for grabs. As things stand, all of Arshdeep Singh, Avesh Khan and Umran Malik have a ‘realistic’ chance of making it to the T20 World Cup in Australia. 

Arshdeep, one feels, might have the edge over the other two due to the left-arm variety he brings, and also his versatility as a bowler. But looking at things from the lens of the World Cup, Avesh and Umran might prove to be bigger weapons due to the package they bring (Avesh - quick, hit the deck ; Umran - express pace, enforcer). 

With Bumrah absent for the forthcoming T20Is, who starts the series alongside Bhuvneshwar and Harshal will reveal a lot about the pecking order. 

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