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Three months into the Dravid era, how is India’s T20I side shaping up?

Last updated on 27 Feb 2022 | 06:10 PM
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Three months into the Dravid era, how is India’s T20I side shaping up?

The games against NZ, WI and SL gave a peek into team India’s plans for the forthcoming T20WC Down Under

The locks in the starting XI

Plenty of newcomers have put their hands up across the nine T20Is India have played in the past three months but, as things stand, the seven guaranteed starters are all players who featured in the T20 World Cup in UAE.

Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Virat Kohli, Rishabh Pant, Suryakumar Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja and Jasprit Bumrah are currently the players that are absolute locks to feature in the first game of the 2022 T20 World Cup in Australia (fitness pertaining), with four spots still available for grabs.

A front-runner for one of the four spots (lead spinner) is Yuzvendra Chahal, who has been outstanding since his return to the side in November (5 wickets in 5 games @ ER 6.78), excelling under pressure on batting-friendly tracks. But Chahal still has a long way to go; his slot has more competition than any other.

Multiple pacers are still fighting it out for the second and third seamer slot, with Bhuvneshwar and Harshal Patel having a slight edge over the others, while the No.6 is a direct shoot-out between Venkatesh Iyer and Hardik Pandya. Hardik might have experience and reputation on his side, but there is no guarantee that the 28-year-old will walk into the starting XI if and when he is fit.

What did we learn from the games against NZ, WI and SL?

* The management have shown a clear inclination towards pacers that can bat. Therefore, with Bumrah being a lock, at least one of the two remaining seamer slots is certain to be occupied by a pacer that can be a potential point of difference down the order. This should encourage the likes of Shardul Thakur, Deepak Chahar and Harshal Patel.

* Ishan Kishan is the first-choice back-up for Rohit/Rahul up the order, and also (as a bonus) a stand-by with the gloves for Pant. The southpaw could hence book his place in the T20WC squad with a reasonable showing in the forthcoming IPL season. He might need to endure a horror two months for one of Gaikwad or Agarwal to jump ahead of him in the pecking order.

* The management are looking at having at least six bowling options, meaning the player that slots in at No.6 *must* have the ability to bowl. This means that Hardik Pandya will not feature in the XI until and unless he starts bowling regularly again.

* Shreyas Iyer has shown that he can be an able back-up for Kohli at No.3, and at the same time play counter-attacking cricket like Suryakumar Yadav. Often criticized for being a slow starter, Iyer showed that he can raise the gear early into his innings if need be. The right-hander’s record-breaking showing against Sri Lanka is unlikely to earn him a spot in the starting XI, but it has ensured that he will be traveling Down Under as a part of the squad.

What are the things that remain unclear?

The immediate future of Mohammed Shami in T20Is

Despite being fit, Mohammed Shami, who featured in the T20WC last year, was not picked for any of the three series India played. What remains unclear is if Shami is completely out of the picture in T20I cricket or if the ‘resting’ is being done as a part of workload management. All evidence points towards the former, but Shami played every single game in the 2021 T20WC despite playing a grand total of 5 T20Is in the 4 years that preceded. The England tour in July should settle this confusion. 

The pecking order of spinners

Ravindra Jadeja being a certain starter leaves a maximum of one other slot open for another spinner, given India are unlikely to field three slower bowlers in Australian conditions. While Yuzvendra Chahal seems to be the front-runner, it has to be said that the leg-spinner has merely made the most out of his opportunities (in the absence of others who have missed out due to injury). The pecking order is anyone’s guess.

Both Ashwin and Axar did not feature in the West Indies and Sri Lanka games due to injury, but it is worth remembering that the duo started ahead of Chahal in the series against New Zealand.

Ravi Bishnoi has made quite the impression already, but whether he’s surpassed Varun Chakravarthy and Rahul Chahar (both of whom played in the World Cup last year) remains unknown. 

Then there is Washington Sundar, who is also in the mix despite enduring rotten luck with respect to injuries. 

The team is undoubtedly spoilt for choices, but zeroing-in on the first choice spinner(s) might prove to be an arduous task. 

A huge IPL coming up, in the context of the World Cup

As things stand, there are still as many as four slots up for grabs in the starting XI. Which is why lying in front of the Indian players is a huge IPL season, in the context of the World Cup.

No one will be under the scanner more than Hardik Pandya. With Venkatesh Iyer having left a very good first impression, the ball is in Pandya’s court now. Not only does he need to have a strong season with the bat, it will also be imperative for him to prove his bowling fitness and show that he can be relied upon to bowl every single game. 

Contrarily, the onus will also be on Venkatesh Iyer to back up his IPL 2021 showing with a good season. Over the years, the competition has been witness to many a one-season wonder; Venky Iyer will have to prove his consistency.

The same can be said about Harshal Patel, who will be under pressure to show that he can achieve sustained success. Either way, Harshal will be competing with half-a-dozen other seamers, vying for the second and third seamer slots. Every player trying to break into the squad/starting XI will have no margin for error. 

Regardless of what happens in the IPL, though, the management are set to have their work cut out. While there will certainly be the temptation to prefer those who shine in the IPL, it will be vitally important to not be completely blinded by recency bias. 

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