India’s main hope at the T20 World Cup in Australia is Hardik Pandya and he will rightly be cotton-wooled at National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bangalore when his team mates take on Australia and South Africa. The worry of what if he gets injured is too risky to even contemplate.
The rest of the T20 World Cup squad has no surprises; just reactions to the long yet conservative experimental phase which has unsurprisingly thrown up more questions than answers. It’s been a kind of experimentation that has left India still punting and hoping at the World Cup.
A couple of observations stick out from this last one year. The Indian batting seems to be in second gear. The Indian bowling is on the other spectrum; if everyone is not at their utmost best, this attack can be taken apart.
Since no new pacer has really turned in astounding performances, Mohammad Shami gets a comeback in those two series and has been named as a standby. Shami hopefully isn’t too rusty after sitting out for so long to produce a couple of performances that can make the team management and selectors introspect.
Since they didn’t experiment with Rishab Pant as an opener – who could have done the job what Rohit Sharma did against Pakistan: provide a breezy start, India are now seemingly stuck with KL Rahul, Rohit, and Virat Kohli as their top three.
A Pant at the top could have freed Rohit to play his T20 style when in form; now he is reduced to providing the fiery start and hope he doesn’t get out in the process. It is now known that Pant would have been successful at all as the conservative experiment didn’t try it out consistently. With Dinesh Karthik and Hardik in the line-up, and especially with Pant not quite nailing the lower-order position, it would have been worth a try.
Since R Ashwin wasn’t given many chances, there is no overwhelming evidence to show that he is good enough to take one spinner’s spot. It is not even known that Ashwin would be bowling more off breaks, which he did in the one Asia Cup game, or be a carrom-ball bowler like he has consistently doing in the IPL, making his coach Kumar Sangakkara politely sigh when their campaign ended.
Since Ravindra Jadeja reportedly had a water-skiing incident in a desert, India will be without their second man who offered them balance after Pandya. And it’s all like-for-like replacements these days, Axar Patel gets into the team even though the same management preferred Ravi Bishnoi over him at Asia Cup and who did rather well. Of course he was dropped as one couldn’t risk his inexperience for the big tournament. That doubt over his temperament and talent could have been answered had the experimental phase of the last year been thought through carefully.
Since Harshal Patel was injured, India were lucky to unearth Arshdeep Singh but can both play in a T20 XI? Highly doubtful. The hope is Jasprit Bumrah picks up his form and skill post return from injury from two series just ahead of the World Cup. Even then it leaves a bowling attack, vulnerable to be taken apart on their less-than-best day, never mind their bad days. Can Harshal’s style be conducive in Australian pitches? And what if Bhuvaneshwar Kumar doesn’t get the ball to move around in the new ball there?
Since Yuzvendra Chahal has had no contenders been given chances consistently, including Ashwin or Bishnoi, India will go with the hope that he can strike form in Australia with longer boundaries. If he doesn’t get much turn, it’s easy to visualise what he would do: bowl more floaters well outside off, bowl really full front-of-hand ones on the middle and leg, try the occasional googly. A decently prepared team should be able to tackle it, if he doesn’t get purchase off the tracks.
Since Virat has now hit a hundred, India will play him at No.3 and hope he does the job. What did we learn about his T20 form by the end of the Asia Cup? That he has rediscovered his old style? Is that the approach where he proceeds relatively serenely before going for his shots? One positive thing that stood out from the Afghanistan game was his aggressive approach to the spinners. It’s still not clear despite a few hits in the desert, if he can do the same against pacers, early in his knock. A crucial spot which otherwise would have gone to Suryakumar Yadav will now be with Kohli with a hint of uncertainty.
Since KL Rahul was injured for a few series, he didn’t hamper his chances by playing too much. Now the hope remains that he can rediscover his past form from pre-IPL captaincy years where he used to go and hit. Again, that uncertainty. If the last year was used more wisely, perhaps, India could have made a well-reasoned decision on Pant or one of the other opening contenders over Rahul. Now, they won’t know but will still be punting.
For India to do well at the T20 World Cup, the players will have to be playing out of their skin, extending themselves more than they have shown this last year. Indian batting has to shed their second-gear approach, and Indian bowling has to be always on their top form. Something that’s normally tough to produce consistently through a long tough tournament like the world cup. Time will tell.