The upcoming India-Sri Lanka white-ball series, which begins on July 18, has the potential to firm up all three departments of the Indian squad – batting, pace, spin – ahead of the T20 World Cup, scheduled to be held in the United Arab Emirates later this year.
Former India fast bowler Ajit Agarkar believes that the series will present a ‘massive opportunity’ for the youngsters.
“I am not sure how much this series will impact selection for the T20 World Cup, but performances here will put pressure on others,” he said at a media interaction organised by the Sony Pictures Sports Network (SPSN).
“Generally, 10-12 players pick themselves, so there are 2-3 slots others are fighting for. Players who are more consistent than otcrhers will have an advantage,” Agarkar said.
He picked Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul as the ideal opening combination for the World Cup. “Shikhar has had two really good IPLs, but he’ll have to pick up scores in T20Is to make his case,” he said of the left-hander, who scored 380 runs at 54.28 in this year’s IPL.
Suryakumar Yadav is a frontrunner for a slot in India’s slightly wobbly middle-order, according to him. “He is a versatile player who started batting lower down the order”, Agarkar said.
The Mumbai-based cricketer didn’t rule out the possibility of a struggling Manish Pandey making a comeback. “If you are picked in this team, selectors think you are fit to play for India,” he said.
Talking about Sanju Samson’s hard-hitting ability, Agarkar said that he needed to be more consistent. “If you are not consistent, other options are there.” He said that Yadav, Pandey and Ishan Kishan were ahead in the pecking order, but Devdutt Padikkal, Chetan Sakariya, Nitish Rana and Prithvi Shaw would also have a point to prove.
Kuldeep Yadav failed to make an impact against England across formats. – GETTY IMAGES
Agarkar said that Hardik Pandya’s contribution was vital to India in white-ball cricket. “You need Hardik to bowl. No one bowls in India’s top-order. We need a sixth bowling option because one day 1-2 guys will have a tough day with five fielders inside the circle. It becomes a lot easier to pick a team if he bowls,” he said.
With UAE’s hard pitches likely to favour seamers, Agarkar said that Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s ability to swing the white ball and experience could be crucial to India’s prospects. “As a bowler you will get injured. Fast bowling is the most physical aspect of the game. Bhuvi started looking like the Bhuvi of old towards the end of the England series. At his best, he comes into my T20 World Cup team,” he asserted.
The former pacer was impressed by the variety of fast bowlers a country once known for batters was producing. “Different styles of bowlers make it easier to pick according to conditions. Credit to the BCCI for opening academies in smaller towns because of which a lot of players are coming into the system who are lot a fitter than what we were,” he said.
With six spinners in India’s squad for the Lanka series, and India’s spin mainstays Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav not at their best lately, Agarkar said that the spin department was a bit of a “worry”.
“Varun (Chakraborty) has had two exceptional IPLs, Rahul (Chahar) has done well for the Mumbai Indians,” he said, adding that the duo would give more options to the team. However, he felt that Kuldeep Yadav was “dealt harshly in the IPL”, and that the Kolkata Knight Riders didn’t show enough faith in him.
According to him, Kuldeep is a bowler “who could go for runs but still win matches”.
“Sometimes I feel that it was a little bit unfair on him (Kuldeep) to miss out on series. But he needs to get his confidence back and start bowling well. Both him and Chahal know there are guys behind them and if you have a competition, the team will do well,” he said. The other spinners in the squad include Krunal Pandya and Krishnappa Gowtham.
Agarkar also said that there is “always a case for someone as experienced as R Ashwin” when asked whether the spinner could make a comeback into limited-overs cricket.
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