Pawan Negi hasn’t played competitive cricket since January 18. He had a very good outing with the bat in that Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 super league fixture against Uttar Pradesh, scoring 41 not out off 37 balls. But his bowling had been expensive – 38 runs in 3.4 overs for one wicket. He was just a domestic cricket also-ran then. So much has changed in just over a month. The spin-bowling allrounder has got into the Indian T20 squad and the inclusion helped him earn a Rs 8.5-crore contract with Delhi Daredevils for the upcoming IPL. But Negi is yet to get an opportunity at the top level.
The spin-bowling all-rounder earned MS Dhoni’s trust by virtue of his 116 runs (strike rate 158.90) and six wickets (economy 8.40) for Chennai Super Kings in the last season’s IPL. That trust played a massive role in Negi’s India call-up ahead of the World T20. But he hasn’t made his international debut yet, for India’s recent string of success barely allowed any room for experiments. Negi, however, has been bowling his heart out in the nets. Also, sharing the dressing room with the big players is a fantastic education for the 23-year-old and as he said ahead of the Asia Cup, it has been hugely helping him “grow as a cricketer”.
The situation is a little different for Harbhajan Singh. At 35 years of age and with 710 international scalps under his belt, he is long past the learning period. The senior offie must be finding it difficult to cope with this phase of inaction. He hasn’t bowled in a competitive match since the Ranji Trophy quarter-final against Assam early February. With R Ashwin in the form of his life, the Indian team management just didn’t have the opportunity to look at his backup.
A romp to the Asia Cup final offers a window. Dhoni had spoken about rotating the playing XI during his pre-departure press conference for the tournament. The idea was to give every squad member a chance with an eye to the World T20. A dead rubber against UAE on Thursday gives India’s limited-overs captain an allowance to check bench strength and confirmation came last night that finally some alterations would be made.
“We will definitely make a few changes in the coming games. How many, that’s something we will see. Because we still want the strength and composition of the side to be very good. I think most of the players will definitely get a chance in the next game. Whether all the people who are sitting outside will get a chance, we are not sure. But we will try to make as many changes as possible,” he said after India’s win over Sri Lanka on Tuesday.
The job is easier, batting-wise. Rohit Sharma is nursing a sore toe, while Shikhar Dhawan has an injured left ankle. They were not 100 per cent for the game against Sri Lanka but had been persisted with. Later, Dhoni explained that the decision to go ahead with the players was down to low-risk nature of the injuries. “The injuries, like you said, there are two-three. But these are sports-related injuries. Someone was hit by the ball or there is a twist during practice. The kind of injuries that will become a problem are when someone tears a hamstring. Because with that type of injuries, what happens is you are ruled out of the entire tournament. If it’s small injuries then there are backups for everyone. There are 15 members in the squad so we can manage. If there are no major injuries, then it is good. We have a lot of juniors and seniors, it is a good mix,” he said. Ajinkya Rahane is a ready replacement available to open the innings.
Tricky choices in bowling
Bowling department presents the tricky part. If Negi plays, who will go out? Negi is basically a backup for Hardik Pandya when the condition is assisting spinners. But matches are being played on green-tops in the Asia Cup and seam-bowling allrounder Pandya has made a mark, taking six wickets in three outings.
He is bowling in good rhythm and a break might upset that. Negi for Jadeja is another option and it would be interesting to see what the team management decides. Harbhajan for Ashwin is a like-for-like and straightforward replacement if Dhoni wants to make wholesale changes.
Moving on to fast bowlers, Bhuvneshwar Kumar had been added to the squad only after Mohammed Shami was ruled out. The Uttar Pradesh seamer is not in the World T20 side either. Will he get a game tomorrow; just to keep Ashish Nehra or Jasprit Bumrah fresh for the final?