Tough time for selectors

With just a couple of days to go before India vs South Africa’s first T20I at Delhi’s Ferozeshah Kotla ground, a lot of young and exciting prospects are awaiting their chance to make it to the final playing XI.

KL Rahul via Getty Images

Patriot takes a look at some of the players who would be looking to consolidate their positions in Team India.

Having a look at the team picked by the five wise men of Indian cricket (the selectors), there is no doubt that opportunities have been given to mostly youngsters who have done well in the just concluded Indian Premier League. There have been exceptions, such as Dinesh Karthik, who returns to the national team at the age of 37.

Meanwhile, the senior players like Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, and Jasprit Bumrah have all been rested for the T20Is.

A lot of former players have questioned the selectors’ logic behind resting India’s captain Rohit Sharma at a time when his team, the Mumbai Indians, was ousted well before the final of the tournament. Not just that: five-time champion Mumbai finished at the bottom of the table, but Rohit’s own performance was well below expectations.

Rohit ended the season with 268 runs from 14 matches, failing to score even a single fifty.

In his absence, KL Rahul has been named the leader of Team India against South Africa. Hardik Pandya, the IPL winning team’s skipper, will also be making his comeback to the national team, while youngsters like Umran Malik and Arshdeep Singh will add to the excitement of cricket lovers.

One has to understand that this is an important series for India to build momentum for the T20I World Cup and that’s why all those getting a chance to play in the absence of senior pros will play to secure their places. So far, both teams have played 15 matches together, from which India had a slight edge by winning nine matches and South Africa winning six.

However, the Proteas have an impressive record when playing India in India, with three wins to India’s one. The series will kick-off in Delhi, with the second T20I taking place at Cuttack on 12 June. The third match will then be held in Vishakhapatnam on 14 June, followed by the next in Rajkot on 17 June. The series finale will be held in Bengaluru on 19 June.

Squad for T20I

KL Rahul (captain), Ruturaj Gaikwad, Ishan Kishan, Deepak Hooda, Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant (vice-captain, wk), Dinesh Karthik (wk), Hardik Pandya, Venkatesh Iyer, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Axar Patel, Ravi Bishnoi, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Harshal Patel, Avesh Khan, Arshdeep Singh, Umran Malik.

Speed guns

Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Harshal Patel. Avesh Khan. Arshdeep Singh. Umran Malik. Hardik Pandya.

There can’t be a happier story from the Team India dressing room than having someone like Umran Malik in the mix. Having recorded a 157 kmph fast ball during an IPL game, Umran has become a household name in Indian cricket. And now, with the T20 World Cup coming up on fast pitches in Australia, every cricket lover would be praying for his success and also eagerly awaiting him to go there and showcase a different picture of India, where fast bowling resources are overflowing.

Arshdeep Singh, Avesh Khan, Umran Malik, Hardik Pandya, Harshal Patel, Bhuvneshwar Kumar (from top left), Photo – Getty

Umran is fast but a bit expensive on occasion, as witnessed during the IPL. But the return of swing bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar could well make it easier for young Umran to bowl with freedom. Bhuvi’s art of bowling in death overs is not a secret to anyone. In this IPL too, he conceded only 8.79 runs in the last five overs.

There are three more special talents in the dressing room. Harshal Patel has a strong claim to share the new ball with Bhuvi given his 52 wickets in the last two seasons of the IPL. But left-armer Arshdeep Singh has developed into a speedster who can nail the yorkers consistently and at an economical rate.

Avesh Khan is different from the two. Having a number of variations in his kitty, Avesh has shown in the IPL that he can bowl at any stage of the game. The talented Avesh was the second-highest wicket-taker in the IPL 2021 with 24 wickets. That’s how he got his maiden national call-up against the West Indies earlier this year.

Last but not least is the return of IPL’s most successful all-rounder and Gujarat Titans’ leader, Hardik Pandya. Skipper Rahul would be thrilled to have him in his squad because he adds depth to Team India’s bowling and batting departments. If Hardik’s deadly spell in the final of the IPL was a treat to watch, then his leadership qualities along with cool-headed batting all through the tournament have made him the obvious choice to take up the key all-rounder slot in Team India.

Opening slot

KL Rahul. Ruturaj Gaikwad. Ishan Kishan

The Indian team management will certainly face a dilemma over the opening partner alongside skipper Rahul. With both Ruturaj Gaikwad and Ishan Kishan included in the squad on the basis of their powerful stroke hitting, the recent inconsistent form of both will make it a hard task for the team management to pick the right opener.

IPL’s most expensive player of this season, Ishan offers team a ‘right-left’ combination, but Gaikwad is equally good in technique and temperament as opener who can bat through the innings to a big total. Although he started on an average note in the 2022 edition of IPL, he ended with 368 runs at an average of 26.29, with a top score of 99.

Despite being picked up in all the T20I series for the last one year, Ruturaj has been able to feature in only three matches because Indian team has preferred a left-right combination of Rahul and Ishan.

In the South Africa series, Gaikwad needs to make the opportunity count in Indian colours.

Rahul, on the other hand, remains a talking point because of his poor strike rate in the recent IPL. This is another reason that his batting strike rate is at over 140 while playing for Team India. Otherwise, Rahul’s form is consistent and noteworthy. The right-hander is the second leading run-scorer with an average of 51.33. He slammed two centuries and four fifties in this year’s IPL season.

That leaves Venkatesh Iyer fighting for his place in the playing XI. He had a poor IPL this time, where he could only muster 182 runs at a strike rate of 107.69 at the top of the order. He was only picked for Team India on the basis of his performances so far for India. In the absence of Hardik, Venkatesh was allocated the role of a finisher in the T20I setup, and he did not disappoint, scoring runs at a strike rate of 162.19.

However, with the return of Karthik and Hardik, it will be difficult for him to retain his place in the playing XI.

Lots at stake for middle-order

Deepak Hooda. Shreyas Iyer. Rishabh Pant (wk). Dinesh Karthik (wk). Venkatesh Iyer. Hardik Pandya

First things first. Expecting Hardik, the captain of the victorious Gujarat Titans, to bat up the order as he was doing for his franchise in the IPL, could well be a little too much for the rest of the middle-order batters.

Shreyas Iyer, who batted at No. 3 in his last four T20I innings, could continue at the spot, with free-flowing Rishabh Pant to follow next at No. 4. Keeping in mind how Dinesh Karthik made his 330 runs at an average of 55 and a strike rate of over 183, there is hardly a doubt that he could be the team management’s pick at No. 5, but only as a specialist batter.

However, he will have a challenge from Hardik, who will surely be looking to bat higher up in the order, if not too higher. If Karthik stood out as a consistent finisher for his side, Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), then Hardik’s credentials as a top-notch batsman are no less than Karthik’s.

And that’s where Team India’s think tank would have to struggle to strike a fine balance. Keeping in mind Karthik’s age (37), he may get a little preference over Hardik in the early games. But then it would all come down to his contribution with the bat or out there as a fielder. Hardik’s current form will keep forcing team management to rotate the No. 5 and No. 6 slots between the two depending on the match situation.

Two or one, spinning quiz

Yuzvendra Chahal. Kuldeep Yadav. Axar Patel. Ravi Bishnoi.

Usually, if a match is played at Delhi’s Kotla surface, there is always a likelihood that India will play with at least two spinners. This time around, however, skipper Rahul may find it hard to decide which two spinners should be deployed against the visiting Proteas side.

Yuzvendra Chahal won the Purple Cap in the recent IPL for picking up 27 wickets and is expected to be India’s No. 1 spinner. But the choice of the second spinner is not as simple as it looks. Chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav, on the other hand, started off the season on a high note but lacked the same consistency towards the end of the IPL.

Kuldeep did get 21 wickets for Delhi Capitals, but the last six games got him just four. He was also a little more expensive than others, conceding more than eight runs an over in nine out of 14 innings.

Axar Patel’s economy of 7.47 runs an over could well get him a little edge over Kuldeep, but he failed to scalp enough wickets (only six in 13 matches of the IPL) to stamp his authority.

Ravi Bishnoi picked 13 wickets but showed signs of nervousness at the crunch moments. Bishnoi ended the season with an economy rate of 8.44.

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Chander Shekhar Luthra
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