India still in search of ideal playing XI for T20 World Cup; injury major concern

With two months and a few series away from the T20 World Cup, India is still in search of an ideal playing XI for the mega event but injuries to their key players is a major concern and making the job a bit tricky for the team management.

In an ideal world, skipper Rohit Sharma, head coach Rahul Dravid and even the fans could have finalised India’s best-suited playing XI for the 2022 T20 World Cup till now but there is uncertainty about a few players as of now.

Injury to two premier pacers — Jasprit Bumrah and Harshal Patel — is the biggest concern for India, going into the showpiece event in Australia. Both bowlers haven’t been picked for the 2022 Asia Cup, which begins on August 27 in the UAE, and are currently undergoing rehab at the NCA in Bengaluru.

It has been learnt that Bumrah has some back issues and he should be fit for the World Cup but Harshal, with a side strain, may need a long time to recover, and he even could miss the flight to Australia.

In batting, Virat Kohli and KL Rahul have had very less game time for India this year because of different reasons. The 33-year old Kohli has played just four T20Is in 2022 and has been given rest for most of the series. The former India skipper will be back in action for India in the upcoming Asia Cup.

On the other hand, Rahul, who is currently leading India in ODIs on the Zimbabwe tour, had a near three-month layoff due to a sports hernia and Covid-19. So, he also needs to spend a suitable amount of time in the middle before the World Cup.

With a few questions still left to be answered, IANS takes a look at the best-possible Indian playing XI for the 2022 T20 World Cup.

Batting:

As of now, it seems that India will go with the tried and tested opening combination of Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul as Ishan Kishan didn’t find a place in the Asia Cup squad, which is a clear indication about the team management’s plan.

There is no doubt that Rahul has been one of India’s best openers in the last half a decade but he has played very less number of T20I matches after the last World Cup, which came in November 2021. Post IPL 2022, the 30-year-old has missed the series against South Africa, England, Ireland and West Indies due to injury and Covid-19.

The right-hander has also been criticised for his slow strike rates. Notably, India under new skipper Rohit Sharma have changed their batting approach post the 2021 World Cup debacle, bringing in the willingness to risk wickets upfront in search of fours and sixes — something which is opposite to Rahul’s preferred style of batting.

In Rahul’s absence, India have tried Ishan Kishan, Surya Kumar Yadav, Deepak Hooda, Shreyas Iyer and Sanju Samson as openers while Virat Kohli has also essayed that role in the past. So, it will be interesting to see whether the Bengaluru boy once again is slotted right at the top order or he bat’s somewhere else at the World Cup. Perhaps, the Asia Cup will give a clear picture about the team’s decision.

On the other hand, Kohli in all likelihood will play at No. 3, given his stature and respectable numbers, despite not being in his best of forms. However, he will have to fight against his struggles against spinners in the middle overs in T20 cricket. In the middle overs, teams look to find boundaries at regular intervals in order to maintain the tempo and Virat has tried to do so but he has got out while playing uncharacteristic shots in the recent past.

The star batter will face challenges from quality spinners — Rashid Khan, Wanindu Hasaranga and Shadab Khan — at the Asia Cup and if he succeeds against them, it will do a world of good to him, going into the World Cup.

Suryakumar Yadav is in the form of his life and there should not be any debate about his place at No. 4 in the team. At No. 5, Pant can be given priority in order to counter the spinners, given that he is the only left-hander in the squad, but he also has some issues with his batting.

Unlike Tests and ODIs, Pant has struggled in T20 Internationals and, despite repeated failures the management has given him a longer rope, given his ability to tear apart bowling attacks. He was also tried as an opener in T20Is in England and India could use him at the top against opponents that regularly use left-arm spin in the powerplay.

Meanwhile, the likes of Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja will certainly play at No. 6 and 7 respectively because of their all-round ability and can do the finishing job for India, which means there will be no place for Dinesh Karthik, at least in India’s first playing XI, despite doing quite well as a finisher. Karthik’s chance to feature in the XI could come as a replacement if one of the middle-order players gets injured or is severely out of form.

Amid all this, Shreyas Iyer, who has constantly struggled against short-pitch bowling in the last few months, has lost his place to Deepak Hooda in the 15-member squad in Asia Cup. Hooda made the most of the opportunities and has been equally good against pace and spin, which gives him the flexibility to slot in anywhere in the top six. His part-time off-break also gives India another bowling option.

Bowling:

In an ideal situation, Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah are India’s first two pacers in the playing XI and if Harshal had been fit and available, he would have most likely been the third seam-bowling option, given his back-to-back outstanding IPL seasons. He is the leading wicket-taker for India in the T20 format since his debut despite not featuring in all the games.

However, with him not being available, the two leading contenders to replace Harshal are Avesh Khan and Arshdeep Singh, who are in the Asia Cup squad. They both could make it to Australia, one in the final XI and the other as a backup. Avesh has also been the standout Indian seamer in the last two seasons of IPL but he has not been able to replicate that performance in the T20Is for India.

On the other hand, Arshdeep’s ability to nail yorkers and variations makes him the like-for-like replacement for Harshal. After IPL, the left-handed pacer impressed everyone during his short stint for India. However, Harshal used to offer something with the bat and in his absence, India will have a long tail consisting of Bumrah, Chahal, Bhuvneshwar and either of Avesh or Arshdeep.

Deepak Chahar can fill that void and he has done well for his chances after making a solid comeback (3/27) in the first ODI on the Zimbabwe tour, which could help him get back into the main squad. But his progress needs to be seen as he was rested for the second ODI.

In the spin department, Jadeja and Yuzvendra Chahal are the first two choices for India but there will be a competition for the third spin slot in the squad. Only two spinners are likely to play in Australian conditions, given the pace-friendly pitches there.

Interestingly, the selectors picked both Ashwin and Bishnoi in the Asia Cup squad, rather than going for another seamer in place of the injured Bumrah. Ashwin made a comeback to the T20I squad during the last World Cup and since then has done a decent job. He has adapted himself equally well against the right and left-handers, bowling economical spells besides picking crucial wickets.

Bishnoi, on the other hand, has an effective googly and is quicker through the air compared to most other Indian spinners. Ashwin’s experience in Australia and his batting ability tilts the selection race in his favour but Bishnoi’s wrist-spin could extract extra bounce on hard Australian wickets, something that would also be on the back of the selectors’ minds.

Overall, India’s performance in the 2022 Asia Cup will give a much clearer picture about their final 15 and even playing XI for the T20 World Cup. If the team management feels there are some gaps in the squad, they will have the home series against Australia and South Africa to fill that and become a formidable side for the T20 showpiece event.

More importantly, the team management, selectors and even fans, would want to see all the players fit and available for the T20 World Cup, which Indian have won just once — during the inaugural edition in 2007 under the leadership of MS Dhoni.

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