After the disappointment of last year’s T20 World Cup in the UAE where favourites India failed to make the knockout rounds, the national selectors have made six changes from that squad in the 15 which were named on Monday to take the flight down under.
It could be argued that despite the much-talked-about sweeping round of experimentation over the past six months, with a view to develop multiple slots for the same players, the Chetan Sharma-led selection committee and the new team management comprising of captain Rohit Sharma and head coach Rahul Dravid haven’t flipped the T20 template as dramatically as one may have imagined.
Some of the players from the last World Cup – the likes of Ishan Kishan, Rahul Chahar and Varun Chakravarthy have simply lost form. Whereas the likes of Shardul Thakur and Mohammed Shami (standby) haven’t got many chances lately. Ravindra Jadeja who would have been an automatic pick has been ruled out for his knee injury, with Axar Patel, the closest contender to fill his shoes, replacing him. The team being reluctant to play Axar regularly after Jadeja’s injury shows that he may not be seen as an equal to Jadeja for his batting and Deepak Hooda could continue to push for a playing eleven berth.
The top order debate primarily around the sameness in approach from India’s all-format batting stars – Sharma, KL Rahul and Virat Kohli was all but laid to rest in the Asia Cup. Sharma has cleared upped his batting gear of late, Kohli is back amongst the runs in grand style and although KL Rahul doesn’t have as many recent runs to show, he is still being seen as a match-winner. One of the survivors in the squad from the last World Cup, all-rounder Hardik Pandya is now a transformed cricketer, consistently rolling his arm over at good speeds.
The clarity of a change in approach is however visible in some of the picks, who have well-defined roles to suit the needs of the format; the likes of Dinesh Karthik – designated finisher, Hooda – aggressive batting all-rounder, Arshdeep Singh – powerplay/death overs specialist and Harshal Patel – pacer with ability to bowl across the innings.
The biggest piece of positive news came in before the selection began, when pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah, whose presence was sorely missed in the Asia Cup was declared free of his back troubles. In his and Harshal’s absence, India’s pace attack looked lacklustre in the Asian competition. That the selectors would not be going for the spectacular, with Bumrah available to team up with the experienced Bhuvneshwar Kumar, became known once they let go of tearaway quick Umran Malik a couple of months back. Kuldeep Sen another 145 kph+ quick who bowled in nets at the Asia Cup wasn’t considered either.
The only way the selectors could have pushed the case for a back-up express seamer, who could be disruptive in the middle overs was if they were content with two spinners for Australian conditions. Instead, they choose to go with the third spinner; the choice itself is an intriguing one – experienced Ravichandran Ashwin over the younger googly-exponent Ravi Bishnoi (standby).
Former Chief selector Krishnamachari Srikkanth, however, believed it is not high pace but Shami’s new ball prowess that India will miss. “Shami should have been there. There is bounce in Australia and he comes in with his high-arm action and gets wickets in the first few overs. Who’s going to get wickets in there,” he asked on Star Sports. The answer of the selectors, it appears, is Kumar – India’s leading T20I powerplay wicket-taker, who shook up Afghanistan batters with a 5-wicket haul in the last match. Shami had others too, backing his case, like former head coach Ravi Shastri. But having not featured in any T20I after the last World Cup, his exclusion wasn’t unexpected. His presence in the reserves in fact appears to be an afterthought following Avesh Khan’s poor form.
The one selection conundrum that will follow the team right through the World Cup is the choice of wicket-keeper batter. Both Karthik and Rishabh Pant make the 15 but only one is likely to play in the eleven at a point in time. “There’s no first-choice wicket-keeper in the side. We play according to the conditions, situation, opposition and what we feel is the best XI,” coach Dravid had said during the Asia Cup. Play that recording on loop; Pant being the only frontline left-handed batter in the squad, expect him to be positioned as a match-up only in certain matches. For 37-year-old Karthik – only him and Rohit Sharma featured in the 2007 winning WC squad – who made a remarkable comeback this year by specialising as a death overs finisher, he is too happy, just to be in the squad. “Dreams do come true,” he tweeted.
Pandya, Arshdeep and Kumar will be at NCA for conditioning-related work during the course of the upcoming home series against Australia and South Africa, according to a BCCI press statement. Arshdeep has been rested from Australia T2OIs starting September 20, while Pandya and Kumar will be opting out of the T20Is against South Africa, that will follow. Shreyas Iyer and Deepak Chahar too will travel to Australia as standbys.