India head into another ICC tournament with over a billion people expecting their highly-talented team to win some major silverware for the first time since lifting the ICC Champions Trophy 2013 trophy in England. With T20I series coming up against South Africa, Ireland and England before the big dance, the real predicament for the sub-continent giants might be picking the right combination from an abundantly talented pool of players. So, who could make the cut and book a seat to Australia later this year?
On initial assessment, Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Virat Kohli seem set to have their slots sealed on the team. While these three might eventually be the chosen ones, the recent form of Sharma and Virat Kohli is a thing of concern. A combined tally of just two fifties in 28 innings between the duo, and a batting average of 19.14 for Sharma and 23.76 for Kohli in the IPL, has raised some serious red flags in a World Cup year.
If India do persist with this trio, it also means they would have three right-handers at the top. Interestingly, six of the previous seven winners of the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup had a left-hand-right-hand opening pair in the final with Pakistan (2010) being the only exception.
Well not to forget the explosive left-handed opener. Enter Shikhar Dhawan and some wildcard options. In addition to his consistent IPL numbers, Dhawan has a history of performing well at ICC events with an average of 53.70 in the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup and 77.88 in the ICC Champions Trophy. He won the Player of the Tournament award at the ICC Champions Trophy 2013 and also has fond memories on Australian soil with two ODI centuries and a T20I average of 33.87. Ishan Kishan, Shubman Gill, Devdutt Padikkal and Ruturaj Gaikwad who have performed well opening the innings for their respective IPL franchises could be potential options.
The biggest concern with picking anyone from this batch is their lack of experience with the four combining for only 15 T20Is, with Kishan’s 10 T20Is making up the bulk of that tally.
Finding a consistent middle order and the impossible-seeming task of replacing MS Dhoni’s finishing ability could continue to be a concern for India. Over the last year, we have seen Rishabh Pant, Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav and Hardik Pandya taking turns to fill that void. While Pant would remain irreplaceable given he is the primary wicket-keeping option, the team would still need at least one more reliable finisher in their ranks.
In Pandya, India have a versatile floater who could bat in multiple positions depending on the match situation. Also unlike Iyer and Yadav, who have only played one game between them in Australia, the Gujarat Titans captain had an incredible tour Down Under in 2020. Pandya averaged 105 thanks to two massive innings of 90 and 92* in the three-match ODI series, and also won the Player of the Series award in the T20I series win against the hosts. Confidence has never been an issue for the flamboyant all-rounder but his recently acquired captaincy role in the IPL seems to have refilled that tank to the brim.
A perfect mixture of form and experience, should India look for additional options, is Dinesh Karthik. Not only was he part of the title-winning squads at both the T20 World Cup 2007 and ICC Champions Trophy 2013, he has also averaged 57.40 and scored at strike rate of 191.33 for the Royal Challengers Bangalore in this year’s IPL.