10 Months to T20 WC: Which Team India Slots are Still Up For Grabs
Who are the players and which are the slots in the Indian T20 team that could be up for grabs in the next few months
"The fight obviously is for one spot and I think more or less three guys have made a place for themselves. It's going to be a healthy competition and it will be interesting to see how it pans out," Virat Kohli said at the pre-match press conference ahead of the West Indies tour.
If you are new to the Indian cricket ecosystem or have just been following it on and off, you might take these words on face value. But anyone who has kept a track of Team India over the last few years will only smirk at this statement from the skipper.
The ODI World Cup is a prime example of how things can change over a short time. Mayank Agarwal, of all people, suddenly found himself boarding a flight to the UK when he himself would not have anticipated that a month ago, even in his wildest dreams.
This tendency, though, doesn't concern Team India alone. Changes are bound to happen at the international level, regardless of the sport. Form and fitness become the major deciding factors here, both of which can never be predicted precisely.
Vis-à-vis the T20 World Cup, all ICC tournaments require participating nations to name a 15-member squad. You will ideally be looking for four pure batsmen, one wicket-keeper and six bowling options, including a quality all-rounder. It only helps if your bowlers can bat a bit and the batsmen can chance their arms.
KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Shreyas Iyer are India's top four as of now. Despite all the debate, Rishabh Pant remains the team's best wicketkeeper-batsman at the moment. Hardik Pandya is set to be back for the New Zealand tour as the main all-rounder.
Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal are India's top five bowlers at the moment, given all are fit and firing. But, unfortunately, none of them can give it a whack.
Okay, Bhuvi can but a bit, but if you require 17 off the last over - a fairly common scenario in T20s - he isn't winning it for you most days.
It is this bid to provide better balance to the playing XI that leads to other permutations and combinations, opening up spots for players with better all-round ability. The following slots is what Team India will be looking at in the lead up to the showpiece event:
- Front runner: Shikhar Dhawan
- Competitors: Mayank Agarwal, Prithvi Shaw
At the moment, KL Rahul seems to have overtaken Shikhar Dhawan as India's first choice for Rohit Sharma's batting partner in T20Is. However, a couple of good knocks from the southpaw may change matters again.
Rahul does help the team with his consistency and strike rate. But, with him coming in, India now have a top four with all right-handers, which isn't ideal. A cunning bowler or a street-smart captain can set innovative fields to choke the team's flow of runs.
To add to that, Dhawan always raises the bar in multi-nation tournaments and it is not the wisest option to discount a big-match player for an ICC competition. Mayank Agrawal, more than Prithvi Shaw, is another option, but the waiting list seems too long for any goodies to come their way.
- Front runner: Manish Pandey
- Competitors: Mayank Agarwal, Suryakumar Yadav
On most days, Manish Pandey will not break into India's strong XI but can be a brilliant like-for-like replacement in case of any injury in the middle order. Pandey has not grabbed his opportunities at the international level but he has been scoring truckloads of runs in domestic cricket. This is why his name keeps popping up in the squad time and again.
In fact, he is possibly in the form of his life and deserves consistent opportunities. However, even if he does not make the XI regularly, the team knows that they have an in-form batsman on the bench who can be called upon if and when required.
The inability, rather limited ability, of the likes of Shubman Gill and Sanju Samson to bat in the lower-middle order pushes them down in the pecking order. Mayank Agarwal's versatility was one of the main reasons for him to earn a World Cup call-up and this is what will keep him and Suryakumar Yadav interested.
Bowling All-rounder cum Backup All-rounder
- Front runner: Ravindra Jadeja, Washington Sundar
- Competitors: Shivam Dube, Vijay Shankar, Krunal Pandya, Krishnappa Gowtham
Presuming that Hardik Pandya is up and running by the time the T20 World Cup arrives, the team will still be looking for a backup option. This is where Ravindra Jadeja has proven his ability often to reiterate that you don't necessarily need to be a pace bowling all-rounder to be a bowling all-rounder; spin can do the job as well. Another option that meets the job description, Washington Sundar's panache to bowl in the powerplay is his biggest weapon.
Shivam Dube and Vijay Shankar have not inspired enough confidence in the chances they have got. Krunal Pandya has gone out of the reckoning due his high economy. But, all three would do themselves a favour with a consistent run in the 2020 IPL.
Another left-field but interesting option for the bowling all-rounder's role is Krishnappa Gowtham.
- Front runner: Deepak Chahar
- Competitors: Shardul Thakur
Khaleel Ahmed got a long rope following his impressive returns in IPL 2019 but he could not deliver. Navdeep Saini has impressed with his heat first up but has been found out in the slog overs.
This allows Deepak Chahar to remain the front runner for the death bowler's spot despite him being unavailable for selection till March, due to a stress fracture in the back. Chahar might not make the starting XI but is a good backup option to Bhuvi, who himself is fighting recurring injuries, and Bumrah.
Another name which has sprung up courtesy of recent performances is Shardul Thakur. Thakur's ability to swing the new ball, his newly-developed skillset for the backend and flair to use the long handle keep him alive in the contest.
Race for Wicket-keeping Gloves
- Front runner: Rishabh Pant
- Competitors: Sanju Samson, MS Dhoni
Just to throw in a random number, Rishabh Pant has an 80% chance of making India's XI for the T20 World Cup. More than his inconsistency with the bat, which has been hyped up, it is his untidy wicket-keeping which can cost him dearly. A better keeper than Pant, Sanju Samson would be hopeful of breaking into the team at some point.
Realistically, MS Dhoni is nowhere in the race at the moment. But, if Pant continues to falter behind the wickets, with the WC closing in, India will have no option but to turn to MSD, given that they don't have ample time to groom a youngster.
This is precisely why the wily customer is holding his boots tight instead of hanging them. A good IPL is all Dhoni needs to be back in contention.
India's probable 15-member squad for T20 World Cup: Virat Kohli (c), Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Rishabh Pant (wk), Hardik Pandya, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammad Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Deepak Chahar, Washington Sundar/Ravindra Jadeja
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