Form (2021) most recent last LWLWWWLL
Since the start of this year, India has lost four and won four of eight Twenty20s played. Most recently, India, albeit a severely depleted line-up, lost 1-2 to Sri Lanka.
Four years after playing his last T20I on the tour of West Indies, R Ashwin has returned to the shortest format. “When you go to a World Cup, you need an offspinner,” said Chetan Sharma, chairman of selectors. “The wickets are likely to be low and slow as the IPL’s latter half will be played in the UAE, and that will help the spinners. Washington Sundar is part of the injured list, and Ashwin has been an asset for the team and the way he has performed in the IPL is the reason he has found a place in the team.”
Ashwin’s numbers in IPL 2020 were impressive – 13 wickets in 15 games at an economy of 7.66. Nine of the 13 wickets came in Dubai, where India plays all but one of its matches in the Super 12s stage. Also, most oppositions will have at least two left-handed batsmen in the top six and given the threat Ashwin poses to left-handers, his selection could be an inspired choice.
Also, Hardik Pandya has been picked as the seam-bowling allrounder and “will bowl his quota of overs”, said Sharma. Pandya has not bowled his four overs consistently since his return from back surgery in 2020. Meanwhile, Deepak Chahar can feel a little hard done by given his form and numbers – 20 wickets in 14 T20Is at 19.3 with an economy of 7.59 rpo. Fifty-three wickets in 55 IPL matches at 27.6 with an economy of 7.67 rpo. And while Axar Patel is a back-up for Jadeja, one feels India is a fast bowler shy.
Among other notable absentees were Shikhar Dhawan, who led India in the recently concluded white-ball tour of Sri Lanka and legspinner Yuzvendra Chahal. Instead, mystery spinner Varun Chakravarthy and legspinner Rahul Chahar have made the cut. The inclusion of five spinners suggests the selectors and management feel that the pitches in Dubai will show wear and tear, having also been used for the UAE-leg of IPL 2021.
The BCCI has also roped in former captain M.S. Dhoni as a mentor for this event. He has been appointed to “provide support and direction,” to the Indian team management led by head coach Ravi Shastri, according to BCCI secretary Jay Shah.
Who’s India’s key player?
While Rohit Sharma’s flamboyant batsmanship or Rishabh Pant’s pyrotechnics will make either the obvious answer for many, it is worth considering which player would be the hardest to replace. Jasprit Bumrah gets the nod here. Bumrah’s ability to bowl yorkers – especially the one that dips like a curveball due to lack of pace – with the old and the new ball means he has become Kohli’s go-to man. What also sets Bumrah apart is his pace – it ensures that even if he ends up delivering a half-volley trying to go for the yorker, batsmen are sometimes still slow to respond. The wide yorkers and back-of-length balls with his unorthodox action only add to the options he has to offer. The three venues in the UAE, where the T20 World Cup will be played, could also favour express pace bowling as Jofra Archer, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje’s success proved in IPL 2020.
Jasprit Bumrah’s pace and his tailing yorkers will boost India’s chances on slow pitches in the UAE and Oman. Photo: Vivek Bendre – The Hindu
What’s India’s likely game plan?
Of late, Kohli has talked about embracing a more dynamic approach to India’s T20I batting, shedding caution for aggression. He had also indicated he wouldn’t mind opening in the long term, having done so in the T20s against England at home in March. However, the chairman of selectors made it clear that Rohit and KL Rahul are India’s first-choice options. This means Kohli is likely to bat one down. They would like to get off to a flying start, sustain pressure through the middle overs and then, if enough wickets remain (or if openers are still at the crease), clobber the ball to all parts in the final 10. The presence of Rishabh Pant, Hardik Pandya, alongside an all-rounder such as Ravindra Jadeja and newcomers Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan, is likely to free up the top order and allow them to be more expansive. Kohli prefers to chase. On flat pitches, this team can prove to be uncontainable but no one is immune to scoreboard pressure.
What can we expect from India?
India won the inaugural T20 World Cup in 2007. Since then, it has reached the final (in 2014) and semis (in 2016). Anything other than making the semis in the UAE would be a hugely disappointing return for Kohli’s men. They will be one of the favourites. With pitches likely to be slow and low, worn down by the second leg of the IPL, playing conditions favour India.