As India’s T20I squad to face South Africa was announced, a quick tally was made for a couple of names. They were spotted at the fag end of the 18-name long list, but at least they were there. Umran Malik and Arshdeep Singh have been called up for international cricket. Public discourse is important in Indian cricket, for the average fan has a keen stake in the national team’s affairs. Yet, one cricketer is seldom seen to garner so much adulation from fans in unison that the same momentum carries him to the coveted blue jersey. Malik’s call-up, as such, is a giddy one.
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Across the four venues of the 2022 Indian Premier League, one placard was commonly noticed – “I have come to watch Umran Malik”. It is going to be shared across the country soon, and then onto the international venues, one by one. The pint-sized Malik has generated enough pace to sensationalize the collective psyche of Indian cricket fans across the world. This is just the start.
It is a timely selection on two counts. As good as the IPL is, there is still a step-up to be made when it comes to international cricket. The pressure to perform is altogether different. In IPL, only your franchise’s hard-core fans will judge performance from the viewpoint of the team’s performance. The rest, well, they are just happy to witness the show. When it comes to international cricket though, your every move, every delivery, will be scrutinised until the world comes to an end.
Malik has to prove that he can make this step up. Playing against South Africa at home means he can continue this journey in familiar conditions. While each venue is different, there is still some similarity in T20 pitches, whether you are playing in Mumbai, or traversing the country from Delhi to Bengaluru. It will be easier for him to carry momentum from the IPL to this starting point of a new journey, instead of bothering about making adjustments when playing overseas.
And that’s where the second point emanates. India is going to play a lot of T20 cricket this year, as Rohit Sharma’s side prepares for the World Cup. Malik’s furious pace on the hard and bouncy tracks in Australia could be a potent weapon, but he needs to make a gradual step up across different international conditions.
India will play T20s in Ireland, England, West Indies, Zimbabwe and potentially the UAE in the Asia Cup, before traveling Down Under. A timely call-up now, and a boost in performance through T20I debut, will prepare Malik for the challenges ahead, whilst also starting his journey to becoming an important member of the Indian cricket team. Make no mistake, there is a valuable cricketer in there, and team India would want to unleash Malik across formats.
For Arshdeep Singh, the stakes are different. India is looking for a death bowler in him, someone to share Jasprit Bumrah’s load. The fact that he is a left-arm pacer helped get the nod easily, but the devil is in the detail. T Natarajan took more wickets (18 in 11 matches) than Singh (10 wickets in 14 matches) across the IPL season, and yet the latter got the first call-up.
First of all, Bumrah has been rested for the upcoming series. He will need some time off after the spanking Mumbai Indians received. In his absence, it made good sense to try out Singh for his death-bowling prowess. And secondly, it helps provide a differential balance to the bowling attack.
India tends to play three pacers, with an all-rounder medium pace option in T20 cricket. Assuming Hardik Pandya or Venkatesh Iyer for that latter role, the other three pace options have to handle the powerplays and death bowling. If Arshdeep can handle two (or more overs at the end), it allows Rohit to use Bumrah a little earlier like Mumbai Indians have done so successfully over the years.
The ideal scenario is for Bumrah to bowl one over in the powerplay, and then return to bowl the 15th, 17th and 19th overs. Having someone like Singh allows Bumrah to bowl in the middle overs, perhaps even earlier in the first half of the innings. It is about controlling how the opposition bats, and Bumrah will be India’s most potent weapon when the T20 World Cup comes around.
Beyond these two pacers, other talking points emerge from this selection. Bhuvneshwar Kumar gets another chance, merely because Deepak Chahar’s fitness continues to elude him. How Harshal Patel and Avesh Khan fit into the same line-up, if at all they do, will be an interesting mix. If the selectors are serious about taking atleast one left-arm pacer to Australia, then only one of Patel-Khan can make it to the World Cup.
Meanwhile, Pandya is back, and it will be important to see what kind of role coach Rahul Dravid chalks out for him, especially in the absence of Suryakumar Yadav and in light of Venkatesh Iyer’s horrendous form. Dinesh Karthik has a role to play too, but his previous international showings haven’t been too strong especially when early wickets fall and he has to re-build the innings. It is important for players to be multi-purpose in today’s cricketing world, so can Karthik really afford to just be the finisher?
We will see more of Deepak Hooda in Indian colours as the 2023 ODI World Cup approaches. He may not necessarily make it to Australia, but the Men in Blue need balancing in the 50-over format too, if they are to challenge on home soil like in 2011.
KL Rahul was the obvious captaincy choice in Rohit’s absence, but Rishabh Pant could have been stripped of vice-captaincy after his antics leading Delhi Capitals. Trying to get your players off the field for a disagreement with an umpiring decision is pretty serious. But the BCCI seems to have moved on, because they see something long-term with Pant, especially in white-ball cricket. Time will tell, of course.
While Ruturaj Gaikwad is meritorious of his call-up, Ishan Kishan’s selection is a booster and nothing more. Arguably, Rahul Tripathi deserved the call-up more but it seems his chance will come when India sends two teams to the United Kingdom next month.
Perhaps the most interesting endnote of this selection is to do with the spin attack. It is a large squad, with 18 members, and four of them are spinners. Axar Patel has had an off IPL season, so will Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav pair up again for the first time since 2019? Or will Ravi Bishnoi make his presence felt?
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