T20I World Cup: Indian squad to shape up

There is more at stake than the IPL trophy this season. Given that last year was all about ODI cricket due to the World Cup at home, India have played little international T20 cricket to be in a position to seal their squad for the upcoming ICC Men’s T20 World Cup in the West Indies and the USA.

With the World Cup scheduled to begin just a week after the IPL concludes, likely overseas due to Lok Sabha elections, the Indian team management is left with no other avenues to take a final look at the players before putting them on the flight.

That makes this season of the IPL, starting tonight, huge- ly important from the Indian team’s perspective. It’s an opportunity for the contenders to stake their claim on several places that are still not set in stone, and for a few who are ‘almost certain’ to change their status to ‘certain’.

CERTAINTIES

But, before we take a look at the contenders, let’s get the certainties out of the way. The first has to be the captain Rohit Sharma (Mumbai Indians). Yashasvi Jaiswal (Rajasthan Royals) has more or less secured the second opener slot. Despite all the rumours and gossips about him not deserving a spot in the T20I side, (Royal Challengers Bengaluru) Virat Kohli’s experience, record and efficiency make him impossible to ignore. Another batter who can’t be ignored is Suryakumar Yadav (MI).

Among bowlers, Jasprit Bumrah (MI) must be the first name on the list. (Chennai Super Kings) Ravindra Jadeja’s all-round abilities, including fielding, have no challengers. With his unique skill set of bowling left-arm wrist spin and recent performances, Kuldeep Yadav (Delhi Capitals) has also booked his place. That leaves eight spots up for grab.

SEAM-BOWLING ALLROUNDER

One of those spots will go to Hardik Pandya (MI) if he stays fit and bowls regularly during the IPL. There are no better seam-bowling allrounders in India than Pandya. However, that will make (CSK) Shivam Dube’s chances slim, if not zilch. In Pandya’s injury-forced absence, India tried Dube as an enforcer against spin bowling in the middle overs. Is Dube good enough to make it purely on batting prowess?

WICKETKEEPER

The biggest challenge, perhaps, for the selectors will be to pick a wicketkeeper. There are several candidates but no one is a confirmed selection. Jitesh Sharma (Punjab Kings) seems to be the frontrunner at the moment.

In the six out 10 T20Is since the ODI World Cup, he has kept the wickets for India. And he bats in the lower-middle order unlike other contenders like Ishan Kishan (MI), Sanju Samson (RR) and KL Rahul (Lucknow Super Giants). But he has the least international experience among all the wicketkeeping options. Jitesh can allay those concerns in the next two months.

Rahul’s versatility as a batsman puts him right behind Jitesh in the queue.

If he can showcase effectiveness in the middle order, he can be a good backup option, both as a wicketkeeper as well as a batsman. Same conditions apply to Samson as well.

The packed top-order and his recent runins with the BCCI have probably made Kishan’s chances disappear. (DC) Rishabh Pant’s comeback from the life-threatening accident after more than a year is a heartwarming story but he would need another miracle to be in the World Cup squad.

FINISHER

Since MS Dhoni’s retirement, India haven’t seen a better death-overs batsman than (Kolkata Knight Riders) Rinku Singh. Since his T20I debut, no batsman with a minimum of 10 matches from top 10 countries has a better strike rate than Rinku’s 176. It will be difficult to keep him out of the squad.

PACERS

It’s another area of concern for India. Besides Bumrah, India need at least three more pace options in the squad. In the 10 T20Is after the ODI World Cup, India have had Arshdeep Singh (PBKS), Mukesh Kumar (DC), Avesh Khan (RR), Mohammed Siraj (RCB), Prasidh Krishna (RR, withdrawn) and Deepak Chahar (CSK). Siraj and Arshdeep are likely to be in the mix. Krishna is injured. Mukesh lacks pace. Avesh couldn’t impress in the chances he got. If Chahar can stay fit and show effectiveness in the IPL, he has good chances of getting picked.

BACK-UPS

India may keep back-ups for these positions: top-order (Shubman Gill, Gujarat Titans), middle-order (Dube), wrist-spinner (Ravi Bishnoi, LSG), spin-bowling allrounder (Axar Patel, DC), wicketkeeper (Rahul) and pacer (Chahar or someone new). The team management will have to make some tough calls as there may not be space for everyone.

Harry Byrne

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