T20 World Cup: Time India roll out the best eleven | Cricket – SportsMediaz

Halfway through the T20 World Cup preparatory stage, have India experimented enough? This is a tournament which India have been building up to for the best part of two years now. And the run-in to the last T20 World Cup in the UAE was almost ideal with a two-month IPL preceding it. India lost to Pakistan, failed to make the semi-finals and that’s really that. India were still a great T20 outfit despite not reaching the last four. But in the churn that has followed, India have now got theoretically better with a nice blend of youth and experience, led by a new all-format captain in Rohit Sharma.

Question is: When does that theory play out in real time? Playing an unchanged eleven in all five matches of the South Africa series, India look like moving in the right direction in terms of pruning the probables. But in all fairness, they will remain in the dark about their true potential as long as the top names don’t play.

Here’s where things stand right now with India’s probable T20 core. Four months away from this T20 World Cup, Virat Kohli has played just two out of the 14 matches India have played since their 2021 T20 World Cup ouster. So have Jasprit Bumrah, KL Rahul and Ravichandran Ashwin while Ravindra Jadeja has played three. Rahul—the first-choice opener with Sharma—hasn’t played for India since November and is again set to miss the tour of England next month because of a groin injury. That’s a lot of big names not playing together for a fairly long time. You could always reason IPL is good enough practice. But Yuzvendra Chahal’s initial struggle to translate his IPL success into sustained consistency during the South Africa series is exactly why you want to give every player enough time to get used to an outfit fundamentally different from an IPL one.

That India have been working on creating some top-order backup is evident from the way Ishan Kishan and Shreyas Iyer have been given a long run. But for different reasons, Suryakumar Yadav’s worth as middle-order enforcer is yet to be completely tested. And then there are the different surprises you need to factor in along the way. Only from the South Africa series have Dinesh Karthik and Hardik Pandya started to play regularly for India and it’s pretty certain both will be part of the core going ahead.

That suddenly makes Rishabh Pant not so indispensable given either Karthik or Ishan Kishan—also India’s third-choice opener and clearly given the long rope with 11 outings—can also keep wicket. Pant hasn’t scored a T20 fifty in nearly four months but India chief coach Rahul Dravid still believes Pant is an integral part of the plans.

“We would have liked him to score some more runs, but it’s not that concerning. He is certainly a very big part of our plans going ahead,” Dravid said after the fifth T20I against South Africa in Bengaluru was rained out. “Nobody bats with the power he has. Also, the fact that he is a left-hander is important to us in the middle-order.”

Bowling, too, is bound to trigger a happy headache by now. Chahal looks primed to be in the first eleven but will he pair with Ashwin or Axar Patel? Ashwin, for all his batting experiments with Rajasthan Royals, is still viewed as a conventional spin option for India. Axar’s batting could be more suited for those slog-over scenarios but Ashwin hasn’t played enough to spell out that difference.

That Bhuvneshwar Kumar could go all the way is apparent from his rediscovering consistency against South Africa but India are yet to pair this version of Kumar—more a powerplay operator than in the slog overs—with Bumrah and Harshal Patel for a whole series. Now factor in Mohammed Shami who hasn’t played for India since the last T20 World Cup and maybe this is becoming too complicated a riddle so close to a World Cup.

Many things can still go wrong from here. And given India’s current status as an assembly line of fully realised, fully functional, multi-talented T20 specialists, filling up those one or two slots in a squad of 15 shouldn’t be difficult. But if they don’t start fielding their best team soon, it would be impossible to realise their overall worth.

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