India’s selectors would have kept an eye on the players they’ve chosen for the T20 World Cup which follows immediately after the Indian Premier League concludes. It is unlikely the exercise would have been gratifying as quite a few members of the WC squad are struggling for form. To rile the situation further, some of those dumped are doing far better than those who won selectorial favour.
The most disappointing have been Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan. Their uninhibited, dynamic batting in IPL 2020 and the first phase of IPL 2021 convinced the selectors to pick them in the 15-member WC squad. Shreyas Iyer, with similar attributes to these two was consigned to the `back-ups’ cluster, presumably because the selectors were wary whether he had recovered from the injury which saw him miss the first phase of the IPL this year.
As it has transpired, Iyer has looked fit and in fine nick for Delhi Capitals, but Yadav and Ishan Kishan have struggled badly, so much so that the latter lost his place in MI’s playing XI. However, from the point of view of the World Cup, Yadav’s form is more crucial.
Where Kishan is understudy to Rishabh Pant as wicket-keeper-batsman (though he can play as a specialist batter), Yadav with his vast experience and high consistency was slated to be in the playing XI’s middle order from the start of the tournament. His lean trot becomes a major concern because there are not too many other specialist batters in the squad.
With three more league matches still to be played, and more matches if MI make it to the play-offs, the selectors as well as, the team management made up of chief coach Ravi Shastri, captain Virat Kohli and vice-captain Rohit Sharma will be hoping that Yadav or Ishan, if not both, rediscover their best touch.
India’s squad has a surfeit of all-rounders: Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, Ravichandran Ashwin, Hardik Pandya. Of these, the last mentioned is considered crucial to give the playing XI balance and heft. But Hardik missed MI’s first two matches, and in others, he hasn’t bowled at all.
Pandya has, unfortunately, had to cope with injuries, surgery and rehab time since the 2019 World Cup. In the period since, whenever he has played – in any format – he was handled with care so as to not to increase his workload which can affect his fitness. This was done essentially keeping the T20 World Cup in mind.
But if Hardik is not bowling at least 2-3 overs — if not his full quota of 4 – the team suffers. He’s looked comfortable while batting, and a strong finish against Punjab the other night saw MI win their first match in the second phase. However, his value to the side gets diminished if he is still unable to bowl at full tilt.
The squad has only three specialist fast bowlers in Bumrah, Shami and Bhuvaneshwar. If Hardik is bowling, the team management need to pick only two from the specialist pacer, and plump for three spinners if conditions favour slow bowlers, as seems to be the case with pitches in the UAE currently. The captain could then have three pacers and three spinners without weakening the batting, a boon for any team.
This becomes even more critical because Bhuvaneshwar Kumar has been in indifferent form. Conditions in the USE haven’t been very helpful to swing bowlers, and since he hardly of express pace, Bhuvi has conceded runs at the start and in death overs while wickets have been very hard to come.
Bhuvi was preferred to Shardul Thakur, who came into the India team in white ball formats, got a break in Tests where he did well too, and was put into the `back-up’s brigade for the WC. If Bhuvi’s form doesn’t improve dramatically, and Hardk is not bowling, India’s pace options in the tournament are limited to just Bumrah and Shami.
The spin department is relatively hassle-free. Jadeja and Axar Patel have been among the wickets. Both are good batters in this format, able to hit the ball long, which is what the team wants from no. 6 and below. R Ashwin has attracted controversy yet again, this time in a clash with Eoin Morgan, but from the WC’s point of view, he’s looked sharp and hungry for success whenever he’s played.
The most impressive spinner has been Varun Chakravarthy who continues to baffle and bamboozle the best batsman. He’s had a meteoric rise since the last IPL season and is being touted as a certainty in the playing XI when the tournament starts – provided, of course, he can sustain form for KKR’s remaining matches.
Leg spinner Rahul Chahar, so impressive last year, has not been able to repeat the act. There’s been more fizz and fire in his demeanour than in his bowling, In fact, he’s been thoroughly upstaged by Yuzvendra Chahal, the man he has replaced in the T20 side.
But it’s not all worry and concern, there’s been good news too. K L Rahul has been in marvelous form though his team has been up and down. Rohit Sharma, nursing a niggle that kept him out for two matches, has shown excellent touch since returning, though he hasn’t got big scores to win more matches for MI.
Rishabh Pant too has played his part in ensuring that Delhi Capitals remain in the top two in the points table with important innings when needed. Tipped to bat at no. 5 or higher in the WC, depending on the match situation, Pant’s been brimming with confidence.
Most importantly, Virat Kohli looks like he is approaching peak form. Opening the innings for RCB, he’s taken the attack to the bowlers, middling the ball well, scoring at a healthy strike rate, running hard between wickets, showing the zest and class which made him the game’s premier batsman in the last decade.
There were worries whether his lean patch, which has persisted for almost two years, would spill over into the T20 World Cup too. With all that has happened with Kohli in recent weeks, his batting form showing such improvement is a welcome boost going into the mega tournament.