India is focused on preparations for the T20 World Cup – to be held in Australia in October-November – with the five T20Is against South Africa starting on Thursday. Now that Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Jasprit Bumrah have been rested, it is an opportunity for some backups to file their claim.
A big conundrum for India is how Dinesh Karthik fits into the XI, but that’s a discussion in itself (check out these pages). Here are a few other questions to answer.
Who fits into the open middle class? Only one spot is up for grabs in India’s middle order. But it’s like a government vacancy in the country – there are far more applicants than vacancies to fill.
First up is Shreyas Iyer who destroyed Sri Lanka by 57* out of 28, 74* out of 44 and 73* out of 45 before the IPL. All those runs came from No. 3, a slot Iyer says is best for him. But in all likelihood, despite his current form, Kohli will get to work there at the World Cup. Iyer has also done equally well at number 4 in the past, so it’s not like he can’t hit lower in the rankings. The only thing is, he’d rather take the time to settle down, something he should work on.
Next up is Deepak Hooda, fresh off his best IPL ever with 451 runs with a strike rate of 136.66. More importantly, he hit anywhere from number 3 to number 6 with equal ease. Another thing that is in his favor is that he can also chip with the ball if necessary.
Then there’s Suryakumar Yadav, currently out with a forearm injury, but a 360-degree batter who can attack from the start. With Rahul Tripathi and Sanju Samson also knocking on the door, this series is a golden opportunity for Iyer and Hooda to make their case.
Who is the second spinner?
With 29 wickets in IPL 2022, Yuzvendra Chahal confirmed his status as India’s No. 1 T20 spinner, but the second spinner’s lock hasn’t been sealed yet. A year ago, Ravindra Jadeja would have walked into that role, but a subpar IPL followed by an injury has opened the door for others.
In Axar Patel, India we have a like-for-like replacement for Jadeja. Axar can bowl four overs regularly, can score mid-range quick runs and is an excellent fielder. But like Jadeja, he is not a wicket-taking bowler and he spins the ball in the same direction as Chahal. The latter could be a problem against a side with multiple left-handed batters.
That’s where Kuldeep Yadav comes in. An attacking wrist spinner, Kuldeep seems to have found his rhythm again with a few adjustments. He also spins the ball away from left-handed batters, complementing Chahal.
Ravi Bishnoi is another contender, bringing in quick googlies, sliders and legbreaks. He made a good first impression during the West Indies series in February 2022, but remains a work in progress.
Will India find their backup opener?
India’s search for a backup opener for Rohit and KL Rahul is still ongoing. For the 2021 T20 World Cup, the selectors had chosen Ishan Kishan for that role, saying he could also hit in the middle order if needed. His left-handed batting was seen as an “important” quality, and his wicketkeeping was a bonus.
However, his current form is both promising and disappointing. In IPL 2022, he scored 418 runs, but with a strike rate of only 120.11. And if Karthik makes the World Cup roster, India will not need a third goalkeeper while Rahul is also available.
As the opener, Kishan faces stiff competition from Ruturaj Gaikwad. While Kishan is seen as an aggressor, Gaikwad is more of an anchor. Gaikwad didn’t have a great IPL, but he showed occasional glimpses of genius. The South African series will give both batters another chance to impress.
Who will win the race between the fast men? Now that Bumrah is equipped for the series, there are probably plenty of opportunities for the next in line.
At his best, Bhuvneshwar Kumar ranks among the best sailors in the world. He had a decent IPL, but India would like him to show consistency and potency. In the absence of Mohammed Shami and Deepak Chahar, he can make great strides to become India’s favorite new ball bowler. Not to mention, he can also be just as good as anyone in the slogovers.
From the new crop there are Umran Malik and Arshdeep Singh. Both had standout IPL seasons. Malik set the stage ablaze with his pace, emerging as the middle-over enforcer for Sunrisers Hyderabad, taking 22 wickets in 14 matches.
Arshdeep relied on his consistency to keep batters quiet on death. He only had ten wickets from 14 matches, but his death-overs economy of 7.58 was second only to Bumrah’s 7.38 (min. ten overs). For both Umran and him, it will be about replicating their IPL success at an international level if the opportunity arises.
Between new and old lies Avesh Khan. He has been part of the team for some time, but only made his T20I debut earlier this year. Unlike Umran and Arshdeep, he can bowl in all phases of the innings. In essence, India is spoiled for choice in the fast bowling department.