T20 World Cup: Pant is ready, but how will the rest of India squad look like?

Problem of plenty a headache ahead of the selection deadline of 1 May

Rishabh Pant in action during an IPL match (photo courtesy: BCCI)
Rishabh Pant in action during an IPL match (photo courtesy: BCCI)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

As the 1 May deadline for naming the national squads for T20 World Cup draws near, the storm over the tea cup is brewing over the composition of final 15 of Men in Blue who are going to be on the flight to the US & West Indies. It’s a topic which assumes the proportion of a national crisis before every major ICC tournament – and it’s not much different this time.

Till the other day, there was a joke of sorts doing the rounds that the IPL 2024 could well turn out to be a six-way contest to decide on the two wicketkeepers for the marquee event. The uncertainty over the fitness and form of comeback man Rishabh Pant threw up a clutch of names along with him for the berths: KL Rahul, Sanju Samson, Ishan Kishan, the ageless Dinesh Karthik and outsider Jitesh Sharma.

At the midway stage of the league, the doubt over the first-choice keeper is now over with Pant coming into his own for Delhi Capitals. The word vintage may be almost a cliché but his unbeaten 88 off 43 deliveries against Gujarat Titans on Wednesday was precisely that – which pitchforked him into third position in the race for the Orange Cap with 342 runs from nine games.

The positions he got himself into for hitting those improbable sixes, the hard singles coupled with his work behind the stumps showed that Pant is battle-ready once again - at least in the T20 format where he has to squat for a maximum of 120 balls in a day. There has to be a back-up for him, and this is where the selectors have to take a tough call between two seasoned campaigners – KL Rahul and Sanju Samson.

There is very little to choose between them on IPL form, with the Rajasthan Royals skipper having his nose ahead in the eighth position in the top scorers’ list (314 runs at a strike rate of 152.42) and the classy Rahul at 11th (302 at 141.12). Samson’s ability to accelerate even in challenging conditions makes him a spectators’ delight but then, the Indian team management has fallen back time and again on Rahul’s experience on the big stage and adaptability to bat at any position as per the requirement of the team.

Shivam Dube during an IPL match
Shivam Dube during an IPL match

Given the cutthroat competition, there is no room really for overt sentimentality despite Dinesh Karthik’s not-so-subtle pitch to give it his 100 per cent to wear the Indian shirt once again. The 38-year-old, who had been a part of India’s 2007 World T20 winning squad, had been using his muscle memory well in a finisher’s role for Royal Challengers Bengaluru, but is it enough to make him a contender?

Meanwhile, here is a breakdown of how the 15-member squad may look:

Openers: Captain Rohit Sharma will be walking out in the company of young Yashasvi Jaiswal in all probability, though it will be impossible to ignore the candidature of Shubman Gill in this format as well. Yashasvi has just come out of a string of sub-par scores in the IPL with a century and has a better strike-rate than Shubman, but then the latter has the experience of playing in the 50-overs World Cup at home.

Middle order: There had been a school of thought that India should prepare for the campaign by keeping Virat Kohli out of the equation, but the master batter appears to have laid any such possibilities to rest with his current form. There are suggestions of having him and Rohit opening the batting but he should better off at number three with Mr 360 degrees Suryakumar Yadav at No.4 or vice versa. The No.5 spot is a tricky one but with Pant now available and in imperious form, it should be there for him for the taking.

This brings us to the crucial number six spot, where Rinku Singh would have been almost an automatic choice even a few months back. However, reports of him carrying a niggle alongwith his lack of a hit in IPL 2024 meant he could not quite create the same impact as last year – while Riyan Parag has been finally living upto his early promise. There is also the experienced Shreyas Iyer, but neither his strike rate nor weight of runs for Kolkata Knight Riders had been really staggering.

Allrounders: There is bit of a conundrum here with Hardik Pandya, now Mumbai Indians captain, failing to emulate his last two years’ form with both bat and ball. There have been unconfirmed reports of the think tank of Rohit and Rahul Dravid asking him to bowl more to be in the running but either way, it’s not really feasible to think about a World T20 team without the allrounder. As for a back-up to Pandya, there is no need to think beyond the muscular Shivam Dube for his abilities to clear the field with ease and bowl his pace-off seamers.

Veteran Ravindra Jadeja, meanwhile, is the automatic choice as the second allrounder in the playing XI.

Bowlers: After pencilling in Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj (despite the latter having a problem with his economy rate) in the pace department, Arshdeep Singh should be next best bet with the experience of the last T20 World Cup behind him. The management will be inclined to take a fourth seamer on board where several names are likely to be floated, but the experienced pro Sandeep Sharma should be in the reckoning for his economy rate and death bowling abilities.

The spinners, meanwhile, pick for themselves in Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal. However, let’s wait and watch if there would be any more surprises in the pack!

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