India won the T20I series against England by 2-1. And it almost was 3-0, thanks to one Suryakumar Yadav, who played one of the most masterful T20I knocks of all time. The 31-year old became the 5th India batter to score a T20I hundred, only 12 days after they got their fourth in Deepak Hooda, who has been in quite the form himself. So, there shouldn’t be any doubts about their seats on a certain flight bound for Australia in October, right? Right?
There shouldn’t be, but there are. India dropped Hooda in the second and the third T20I against England, even after the 27-year old had scored 243 runs off just 140 deliveries across three T20Is and one warm up T20 in UK this summer. This, while batting at number 3, scoring at a noticeably quick rate, and showing a certain likeness for dispatching short balls for maximums. Hooda was replaced by Kohli at number three for the final two T20Is, and the former India captain only managed to score 1 off 3 and 11 off 6 in the two games respectively.
Kohli had a forgetful IPL season for RCB in 2022 as he scored 341 runs in 16 games at a strike rate touching just 115. The 33-year old and has been going through a big low in his career, which is why there has been so much talk around his place in India’s eleven and squad for the T20 World Cup, given the likes of Hooda sitting out. But it isn’t just about Kohli, is it?
India have also shown interest in reviewing their policies for the opening spots. The introduction of Rishabh Pant the opener wasn’t just about finding another spot for India’s first choice keeper in the batting lineup with the likes of Hardik Pandya, Dinesh Karthik, and Ravindra Jadeja already filling a rich and clustered middle and lower middle order. It was also about India making the most of the powerplay. The Pant style of cricket sounds delicious when married with six overs of just two fielders outside the 30 yard circle. And it did look delicious in the second T20I when Pant, along with his captain propelled India to almost fifty inside five overs.
Now, Pant made his place in the XI for Ishan Kishan, who had scored over 200 runs in the home series against South Africa at a strike rate touching 150. The Mumbai Indians opener has also been known for going big with his shots early in his innings. And clearly, either Pant or Kishan can also help India face their left arm seamer nightmare by adding a left hand-right hand combination at the top alongside captain Rohit Sharma.
But for that, can the think tank look away from their first choice opener alongside Sharma in the last T20 World Cup. KL Rahul hasn’t played a T20I for India this year and recently underwent a surgery for sports hernia in Germany. If the 30-year old is fit by the time of the T20 World Cup, does he walk straight into the squad and the XI? It isn’t that simple. In the IPL, Rahul has been part of the orange cap race consistently but the strike rate talks have followed the Punjab and now Lucknow captain over the last four seasons, with his best since 2018 being 138.80 from the 2021 season. His strike rate for India in the 22 T20Is he has played since 2020 touches only 136.
India have a host of players to look at in the T20 format who like to play with fire from the first ball. Sanju Samson literally admitted in front of camera that he wants to score small amount of runs which are very effective for the team, and he took us to the premier of the same in Malahide a couple of weeks back in his 41-ball-77. Or for that matter Prithvi Shaw, who seems out of all the discussions for the World Cup but was the best Indian batter in the powerplay this IPL, scoring at a run rate above 9.
In the contemporary format where defending 200 is a difficult ask for quality pace attacks, shouldn’t then teams with options such as India not bank on players who go big or go home rather than stick with those who play the anchor role and occupy positions in the batting order where you get to face more deliveries than others? Shouldn’t recent form and style of play govern selection rather than just big names and reputations? No matter how big these reputations are.
Because the last time India won a T20 World Cup, they didn’t do so with established reputations. They won it and established reputations.