India's young guns step up with eyes on T20 World Cup
A largely young Indian side wrapped up the five-match T20 series against Australia 4-1 and there were plenty of promising performances
Another bilateral series has yielded another victory for India. Whatever may be the reason for India not winning an ICC title since 2013, their consistency, which can only be gauged by how they perform in bilateral contests over a prolonged period, cannot be faulted.
The latest triumph — a 4-1 victory over Australia — saw neither team at full strength for a T20 series that began four days after the ODI World Cup final. With more than six months left for the T20 World Cup in the Caribbean and United States (June 4-30, 2024), much could change. The uncertain future of Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli in the shortest format are particularly pressing issues while IPL 2024 is also bound to throw up selection headaches with players getting into and going out of form.
These caveats aside, India’s selectors have reasons to be encouraged with what they saw in the series victory.
Young batters step up
In Ruturaj Gaikwad, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Rinku Singh, Ishan Kishan and Tilak Varma, India have a string of young batters ready for consistent opportunities. Whether they get them depends on the sort of balance the selectors strike between experience and exuberance. Gaikwad and Jaiswal excelled as an opening pair in the series, helping the hosts get off to quick starts on pitches suitable for stroke-making.
They also offer a left-right combination, which forces bowlers to constantly adjust their lines in a format where there’s little room for error. Regardless of how well they fare heading into the T20 World Cup though, they may have to bide their time if Sharma and Kohli are in consideration. In the mix at the top is also Shubman Gill, who will have the spotlight as Gujarat Titans skipper in next season’s IPL.
Options abound in the middle order too. While Suryakumar Yadav, Shreyas Iyer and Hardik Pandya are among the regulars expected to take their place, Rinku, Varma and Kishan add depth to the middle order. Rinku in particular will fancy his chances even when everyone is available, for the 26-year-old carries out a role few are adept at — as a lower-middle order batter geared up to maximising on opportunities in the death overs. Clinching evidence came when he struck five sixes in the final over in this year's IPL. If he can build on his recent form with another impressive IPL, he will be at the front of the queue for the No. 6 slot.
Heavy competition in spin attack
While Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav were rested for the T20 series after the exertions of a six-week World Cup campaign, they will know they can’t rest on their laurels. Ravi Bishnoi is a young spinner who may not please purists with his mix of fastish leg-breaks and googlies, but he seems to have the nerve to deliver under pressure. As his nine wickets in the series at an economy of 8.2 illustrate, he may be prone to leaking runs (who isn’t in this format?). But he also has a wicket-taking knack, on view right through the series as he provided breakthroughs even against the run of play.
Axar Patel may have a point to prove. Having missed the ODI World Cup due to injury, the 29-year-old left-arm spinner made a solid return in these T20s. On tracks catering to big totals, he was fairly successful in tying down batters. Yet, he strangely doesn’t find a place in the T20 squad against South Africa for the series beginning December 10, with Jadeja returning as deputy to Suryakumar. With both essentially performing the same role, there is likely to be space for just one on the flight to the Caribbean. If Axar is to nudge ahead of the senior all-rounder in time for the T20 World Cup, he will perhaps need to have a standout IPL campaign.
Yuzvendra Chahal, overlooked for the ODI World Cup, will also be in the fray. Nobody has taken more wickets in IPL’s 16 seasons than the 33-year-old leggie – he has 187 scalps in 145 matches. His 96 wickets in 80 T20Is are also the most for India. It’s hard to fathom why he’s been left out of the T20 squad and picked for the ODIs alone on the tour of South Africa, but he is likely to make a strong claim for inclusion.
Arshdeep, Mukesh worth backing
That no India pacer had an economy below nine in this series is reflective of their travails across the five games. Prasidh Krishna was in for the roughest treatment, leaking runs at 13.25 per over which suggests he may not be favoured for the T20 World Cup. Avesh Khan too tends to be hit-and-miss.
But as Sunday’s fifth T20I in Bengaluru showed, Arshdeep Singh and Mukesh Kumar may be worth persisting with. In Arshdeep’s case, he perhaps hasn’t kicked on as expected after last year’s T20 World Cup. With competent death bowlers at a premium, however, the 24-year-old from Punjab has the skills to complement Jasprit Bumrah – he defended nine runs in the last over at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium.
Also noteworthy is Mukesh’s upward trajectory. Known to hit a probing channel in first-class cricket, Mukesh — far from a greenhorn at the age of 30 — seems to have the tools to step up even in the latter overs of a T20 innings. While Bumrah is the unchallenged leader of the pace attack, Arshdeep, Mukesh and a few others will have to lend prominent support to the spearhead.
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