India begin the New Year with a new-look T20I team
India had an odd year in T20 internationals in 2022. They played 40 matches, the most by any team in any year by a distance, and used 31 players, the most along with England. They won eight out of nine bilateral series, but didn’t make the finals of the two big ones – the Asia Cup and the T20 World Cup. The semi-final exit in Australia led to the team management beginning the New Year with a review meeting with the BCCI’s top brass.
Despite success in bilateral matches, there’s been an intense scrutiny of India’s approach in T20 cricket – particularly around the batting – and their failings at major tournaments. The series that begins against Sri Lanka in Mumbai on Tuesday is a chance at a fresh start. With the focus shifting to the ODI World Cup at home this October and November, India have picked a relatively young squad for the T20Is.
While Rohit Sharma, who appears to have been given assurances that he will continue to lead the 50-over side, is recovering from a finger injury, Virat Kohli and KL Rahul have been rested. Rishabh Pant was not part of the series either, even before his serious car accident on December 30, and veterans like Bhuvneshwar Kumar were not picked.
Given the overarching feeling that there is a need for change in India’s T20 cricket, there are opportunities for fringe players to make a strong case to be part of India’s first-choice squad, even when the regulars become available. With the next T20 World Cup in 2024, it’s a chance for India to start afresh and redefine the way they want to approach the shortest format of the game.
Hardik Pandya – India’s T20I captain?
In Rohit’s absence, Hardik Pandya has once again been appointed India’s T20I captain. Only time will tell if he is a temporary replacement, or whether the elevation is a more permanent promotion, as India build towards the next T20 World Cup. This series is a chance for Hardik to lead without the pressures of winning a major event at short notice – a luxury Rohit did not have; he took over with barely eight months to prepare for the World Cup in Australia.
Hardik has made a strong impression as a captain, ever since he was first appointed by Gujarat Titans ahead of IPL 2022. While it seemed like an unconventional move, Hardik quickly grew into the role as the tournament progressed. Player security, continuity and role clarity became buzzwords around the group as Titans won the title in their debut season.
Since then, Hardik has led India in T20Is in Ireland, West Indies and most recently New Zealand, and the chorus for him to take over the captaincy full time has been growing louder within Indian cricket circles. This series – and the selection for the next one against New Zealand – could give us an indication about the possibility of a transition. Hardik also has a new deputy with Suryakumar Yadav, India’s best T20 batter of 2022, getting a promotion to vice-captain.
Ishan Kishan, Sanju Samson and a top-order makeover
When Ishan Kishan smashed 56 off 32 balls on T20I debut against an England side featuring Sam Curran, Jofra Archer, Chris Jordan, Ben Stokes and Adil Rashid, it appeared as though India had found a key piece of their T20I puzzle. Kishan went on to be a part of India’s 2021 T20 World Cup squad, but quickly lost his way. An underwhelming IPL 2022 season did not help his cause, even though he continued to feature in second-string Indian squads.
One day in Bangladesh, when he smashed the record for the fastest double-century in ODIs, has changed all that. Kishan may not have played that match had Rohit been fit, but not he’s bound to get a longer run at the top of the order, especially with Rahul likely to be on personal leave for the New Zealand series too.
Like Kishan, Sanju Samson could get a run of successive games against Sri Lanka and New Zealand. If he does, it will surpass the longest streak of consecutive games – three T20Is – he’s had for India since his debut in 2015. The sixth highest run-scorer in the IPL over the past three seasons, Samson can bat anywhere in the top six, keep wicket, attack from the start, and is an excellent player of spin. His perceived inconsistency has hindered his progress but that could also be a result of the constant uncertainty over his selection. In 16 T20Is, Samson has a lone half-century, a 42-ball 77 against Ireland; this series could be the opportunity for him to get not just more games but also a chance to bat in the top order, where he can be at his destructive best.
India will also have a new opening combination for this series, with Kishan likely to team up with either Shubman Gill or Ruturaj Gaikwad in Pant’s absence. Gill has not yet played a T20 international, and is coming off a Syed Mushtaq Ali tournament in which he scored 260 runs as an opener at an average of 52 and strike rate of 156.62. Gaikwad’s numbers are similar – 295 runs at an average of 59 and strike rate of 146.7 – and he has not played a T20I for India since the tour of Ireland in July last year. Will India be able to find that explosive opening combination they’ve been searching for?
Washington adds all-round depth
With Washington Sundar fully fit, India’s all-rounder stocks look healthy for the home series, with Deepak Hooda and Axar Patel to choose from as well, in addition to Hardik. Washington played only one T20I on the tour of New Zealand but his ability to bowl in the powerplay and his ever-improving batting skills gives India options. He had scores of 37* off 16 balls in an ODI in New Zealand, and 51 and 37 in ODIs in Bangladesh.
Arshdeep’s chance to lead the attack
Arshdeep Singh started as a powerplay specialist but his responsibilities have grown in Jasprit Bumrah’s absence. His ability to nail the yorker and his calm temperament has made Arshdeep an asset in the death overs, and currently he is the only left-arm pacer in India’s T20 plans. He was India’s best bowler at the 2022 T20 World Cup and took 4 for 37 in the tied third T20I in New Zealand in November.
Now, along with Harshal Patel, Arshdeep will spearhead a pace attack comprising rookies: tearaway quick Umran Malik, Mukesh Kumar and Shivam Mavi. With India keen to develop wicket-taking options in the middle overs, Malik could play his first international at home; all his five ODIs and three T20Is so far have been outside India.