The men in the mix for India’s T20 World Cup revenge
Despite a wealth of individual talent and depth across both facets of play, India stumbled early to Pakistan and looked tentative in a defeat to New Zealand at last year's edition of the 20-over showcase. Three wins to finish the group stage meant they finished strongly, though they failed to make the ground needed to finish in the top two.
A myriad of reasons and excuses of India’s malaise were put forward, from fatigue, to team selections and questions of leadership.
Now under the captaincy of Rohit Sharma, India intend to turn a corner. To do this, and even with the dozens of players at their disposal, the biggest challenge will be to fit the playing pieces together.
All-rounder Ravindra Jadeja (seven wickets) was one of just four bowlers to claim a scalp for India in 2021, with Ravichandran Ashwin, left out for the first two matches, claiming six wickets.
Ashwin’s selection in the 2021 squad over Yuzvendra Chahal turned heads, with the leg-spinner's omission one of the biggest talking points ahead of the tournament. The favoured Varun Chakravathy then went wicketless at the tournament, only adding fuel to the fire for those pondering Chahal's absence.
The lack of penetration from the bowlers only tells half the story though. Failing to post difficult targets early on, India were unable to squeeze Pakistan and New Zealand with the scoreboard pressure that runs on the board brings with it. Questions of the middle and lower order have been raised, though the work of youngsters and veterans alike at the IPL suggest a solution could be found
Six months out from another crack at the T20 World Cup, a number of players performing at this year's IPL are in the mix of being included in the squad this time around.
A stand-by player for the 2021 tournament, Iyer looks good value to slide into the squad proper, with international and IPL numbers too good to ignore.
A dependable figure for the Kolkata Knight Riders, Iyer is yet to be dismissed under double figures this season, making 248 runs at 35.42 and a strike rate of 142.52.
Iyer would feature in the middle order, enabling India to persist with the KL Rahul/Rohit Sharma opening combination, with Virat Kohli at No.3.
With India's batting criticised at the 2021 tournament, most notably in the too-careful approach against New Zealand, an older head throughout the middle and death overs could be the answer.
Step forward, Dinesh Karthik.
Making 216 runs at a strike rate of 198, Karthik has been a pivotal figure of Royal Challengers Bangalore's five-win start to this year's IPL, doing so in pressure situations. Across his 26 innings for India in the T20I format, Karthik has batted across every spot in the top seven, striking at 144.
"I know there is a World Cup around the corner. I want to be part of that World Cup desperately and help India across the line," Karthik said after victory against Delhi Capitals earlier in the month.
"It's been a long time since India won a multi-nation tournament. I want to be that person who is helping India do that."
36-year-old Dhawan captained India as recently as the July before the 2021 World Cup, only to be left in the cold, beaten out by Ishan Kishan. India would likely prefer Rohit Sharma opening with KL Rahul at the top of the order, though Kishan's selections hint that they may be willing to move the skipper down to three should they want to take a chance on the veteran.
Dhawan's bat has done the talking at the IPL, leading the Punjab Kings in runs in 2022 (302 at 61.33, 148 SR), only bettered by Jos Buttler and KL Rahul. Dhawan brought up 6000 IPL runs on Monday night against Chennai Super Kings, also making an unbeaten 88 from 59 balls to set up an 11-run victory in a vintage display, filled led with slashes behind square on the off-side, and shuffling across to work to the leg-side, working the field with ease.
Leading the quicks in this year's IPL, T Natarajan has earned praised for his added dimension death-over variations and consistency, to go with his consistent yorker execution.
Shaking off injuries that have kept him out of the game, a ticket on the flight to Australia is beckoning for the 31-year-old, who showed calmness under pressure the last time he travelled Down Under.
Natarajan was unflappable when thrown into the deep end, debuting in India's famous Gabba Test victory to win the Border-Gavaskar series, while also picking up consistent wickets in the white-ball leg of the series.
A worthy role player for the Delhi Capitals last season, Avesh Khan has stepped out of the shadows and into a starring role for Lucknow Super Giants in their inaugural season, and taken responsibility as the leader of the attack.
Taking a wicket every 14.5 balls at the tournament, Avesh has also kept his economy under 8.3, even when employed for the death overs. His 4/24 against Sunrisers Hyderabad is the glowing example of Khan's capabilities, taking the wickets of both openers (Abhishek Sharma and Kane Williamson), before returning to dismiss the dangerous Nicholas Pooran and Abdul Samad in consecutive balls during the 18th over of their chase. The performance was the catalyst in a 12-run win, defending 169.
Kuldeep’s comeback has been one of the heart-warming storylines during this year’s IPL, and the ending to it could see him in the blue of India again.
Out of favour at KKR behind Sunil Narine and Varun Chakravarthy, and stricken by injury, Kuldeep failed to play a single IPL game last year, though his move to Delhi has reinvigorated his career.
A Player of the Match performance of 4/35 against his old team underlined the comeback, and his celebrations during the game hinted that he felt he had a score to settle.
It may take a change in philosophy for him to feature in the same team as at least two other spinners, though India could benefit by sticking to their strengths instead of looking at Australian surfaces for solutions.
Chahal could well go unmatched for wickets across the IPL, currently on 18 and three ahead of the next chaser, though it is the consistency across the campaign that would make him the reliable option come October.
Even as opponents opt to try and see him off, the leg-spinner has broken through, taking wickets in all but one match, and multiple scalps in all but three.
To add to Chahal's case, playing under Rohit seems to bring the best out of him. In the 19 T20Is under him, Chahal has taken 28 wickets at 19.85 (down from a career average of 25.33), at an economy of 7.41 (down from 8.18 runs per over).
At this stage, it would be almost unfathomable that Chahal could miss a second consecutive tournament squad.
The best of the rest
Across the batting group, Prithvi Shaw has been a dependable opener for the Delhi Capitals, making two fifties in his 254 runs (165 strike rate) thus far. Shivam Dube (247 runs) leads Chennai's cause, while youngster Tilak Varma continues to impress.
For the bowlers, Sunrisers Hyderabad bolter Umran Malik (15 wickets) is a quick to keep an eye on as he continues his rise, while Khaleel Ahmed (11 wickets) has managed to pick up a wicket in every appearance for the Delhi Capitals thus far. Umesh Yadav (11 wickets) is making a climb for Kolkata Knight Riders, and Harshal Patel (10 wickets) continues to showcase his talent at RCB.
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