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Dhoni's Future, Hardik's Form | How India's T20 World Cup Plans Will be Affected if There's No IPL

Mahendra Singh Dhoni walks back after being dismissed against New Zealand at Old Trafford. (Pic: AP)

Mahendra Singh Dhoni walks back after being dismissed against New Zealand at Old Trafford. (Pic: AP)

There's no sign of the IPL anytime soon, and it's looking increasingly likely that the tournament might not happen this year. Even if it does, it might not be in the same format or length.

March 29 gone. April 15 gone. There's no sign of the IPL anytime soon, and it's looking increasingly likely that the tournament might not happen this year. Even if it does, it might not be in the same format or length.

"It's just simple common sense that at the moment, nothing is in favour of any kind of sport anywhere in the world, forget IPL," said BCCI president Sourav Ganguly recently.

So in such a scenario, what does this mean for the Indian T20 team, especially considering this is a World Cup year? (Assuming the T20 World Cup, scheduled in October-November in Australia, goes ahead). Let's have a look.

The end for MS Dhoni?

The IPL was supposed to be the biggest factor in deciding whether Dhoni would play another game for India. Many, including coach Ravi Shastri, had said Dhoni could be included in the plans if he has a great IPL.

Dhoni, who last played for India in the 2019 World Cup, seemed keen on making the most of the IPL too. He came to Chennai in the first week of March and began an extended pre-season camp, which was cut-off by the Coronavirus situation.

Now, without an IPL, it will be very difficult for the selectors to pick the former India captain. He might still be around for at least one more IPL, but chances are high that Dhoni has played his last match for India.

What about Rishabh Pant?

It's incredible to think that Pant, known for his dynamic style of play, missed 8 consecutive limited-overs games for India despite being in the squad for the tour of New Zealand. With KL Rahul/Sanju Samson donning the gloves and Manish Pandey preferred in the XI, Pant couldn't break in to the team in the formats where he was seen as a sure-starter in the absence of Dhoni. Interestingly, Pant played both the Tests ahead of Wriddhiman Saha.

Pant would have looked at the IPL as a medium to find his way back in the Indian XI. Unlike in the Indian team, he's a sure starter for Delhi Capitals in the IPL. He scored 684 and 488 runs in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, and another such performance would have helped him stake a place.

Test Hardik Pandya's fitness and form

He was included in the Indian side for the three ODIs against South Africa, but the coronavirus scare ensured the series didn't happen. Hardik has proved his match fitness in the DY Patil tournament, but IPL and international cricket are a few steps higher.

Thus, India would have hoped for Hardik to ease into action through the IPL. He last played for India last September, after which he suffered a back injury which required surgery.

The pandemic might eat into more of the cricketing schedule too, which means India, like many other teams, could have fewer games in the lead up to the T20 World Cup. Hardik is a crucial cog in India's wheel as he provides balance with both bat and ball, and some lower-order firepower which India lack. The more he plays, the better it is for Team India.

Comeback chances dented

Virat Kohli has often hinted that India have already narrowed in on their squad for the World Cup, with openings for a few slots.

There are numerous cricketers in the fringes who would be eyeing those spots. Starting with Robin Uthappa and Suresh Raina, who were open about eyeing a World Cup opportunity. But they themselves would know deep down that their chances are remote, unless they have a stunning IPL season.

The ones who have little higher chances would feel robbed off an opportunity to make their case. People like Dinesh Karthik and Krunal Pandya, who were in the scheme of things not too long ago, and maybe R Ashwin, who too has been open about wanting to comeback to the limited-overs formats.

Not too long ago, Karthik spoke about wanting to replace Dhoni as a finisher in the Indian T20 side. Karthik was dropped from the limited-overs set up after the 50-over World Cup last year, although his T20 numbers were better than most other middle order batsmen.

Krunal was part of the Indian T20 set up for a bit longer, till November 2019. His poor run, especially with the ball where he went wicketless in his last five T20Is, worked against him.

India have backed Washington Sundar as the off-spinning all-rounder, and he hasn't done too bad. His senior state partner Ashwin would have eyed a good IPL as a route to make a comeback, especially since he is set to play at the slow turning Feroz Shah Kotla.

Test dynamic players like Suryakumar Yadav

As the above list suggests, most of India's issues are to do with the middle order. They're a side heavily relying on the form of the top three - KL Rahul, Kohli and Rohit Sharma. Finding a strong middle order has been India's issue in limited-overs cricket for a while.

Among the dynamic batsmen waiting in the wings is Suryakumar. The Mumbai batsman has been in terrific striking form in domestic cricket, and was set to be a regular starter for the Mumbai Indians. Wankhede is known to be a high scoring ground and a good IPL would have done his chances a world of good.

Who beyond Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar?

Although India won the T20I series, the ODIs in New Zealand showed that India's bowling attack lacks sting when Bumrah is not at his best. Bumrah went wicketless in the three ODIs and had a couple of average Tests too.

Bumrah's form the absence of Bhuvneshwar and Deepak Chahar through injury showed India's bowling resources in poor light. India would have realised the need to work on back-ups, and what better platform than the IPL to throw up a few names. The likes of Khaleel Ahmed and Siddhart Kaul, who were in the T20I set up not too long ago, would be hoping the IPL takes place so that they can make their cases too.