T20 World Cup: Rinku, Shivam make a strong case; Big Two ready for final tilt
Takeaways from the 3-0 sweep against Afghanistan ahead of the bigger challenge
It’s a pity that a dead rubber in the third T20 International between India and Afghanistan produced the most intense competition in Bengaluru with a Super Super Over finish.
While the series served its purpose—providing enough clues for India in their quest for the right combination for the T20 World Cup ahead—it also served as a warning signal against taking the Afghans lightly in any white ball format.
The hottest topic of discussion, however, will be whether the two big guns, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli, had done enough to show they were indispensable for the marquee ICC event in the US and West Indies in five months’ time.
It would be somewhat of a naive reaction to gape in awe at the captain’s century on Wednesday, 17 January, as he struck vintage form against an essentially mediocre attack, with the spinners hardly getting a purchase — not to speak of the short boundaries at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. It was the first decent crease time Rohit Sharma had after two ducks, actually, while Kohli failed to build on a start in the previous game and fell for a duck last night.
However, the idea was more to see how the two senior pros could fit the brief in this format (rather than just focusing on the runs tally), after the 14-month hiatus since India’s exit from the World T20 semi-final against England in November 2022. And there was enough buy-in from both stalwarts for the brand of cricket the team management want to play in the World Cup. Besides, Kohli’s role as a troubleshooter and facility for switching gears will continue to be critical in such a high-pressure event.
However, the biggest investment for the team management is certainly Rinku Singh, who has come of age since making his international debut in mid-2023 on the back of an exceptional IPL season.
Speaking after Wednesday’s humdinger, Sharma was effusive about Singh’s growth as a batter. The captain underscored how badly India needed someone like him to have the team's back. If the UP batter was being praised for his role as a finisher all along, he also showed a great deal of maturity and an ability to pace his innings as a builder during his 69 off 39 deliveries, on the way to that epic 190-run partnership with his captain after India got into early trouble at 22 for 4.
A look at Rinku Singh’s short journey in the T20Is reflects his consistency as well: 356 runs from 11 innings in 15 games, with an average of 89.00 and a strike rate of 176 shows he is ready for the long haul.
The performance of Man of the Series Shivam Dube—resurrected in international cricket thanks to back-to-back strong seasons with the Chennai Super Kings in the IPL—was also a big plus for India.
The two 60-plus innings in the first two games showed that the Mumbai all-rounder has worked at his game and can be a powerful hitter in the middle order, in addition to filling in the role of a sixth bowler. Yes, he is no Pandya, but can serve as a handy back-up with similar skill sets—no wonder the TV pundits are already arguing for a spot for Dube.
The IPL in March–April may again bring change. There are plenty of uncertainties—the wicketkeeper’s spot, a role for K.L. Rahul, and which members of the pace unit to be included, among them.
The match fitness of Rishabh Pant is a question whose answer seems to still be some way off. Also, only time can tell whether Ishan Kishan can inspire enough confidence in Rahul Dravid & Co. In turn, these factors make things look brighter for Jitesh Sharma and even Sanju Samson after their long wait.
In pace bowling, the return of Jasprit Bumrah — who missed out on the last World T20 — is a must. There seems to be a bit of ambivalence about Mohammed Shami in this format, but the fact remains that he was the Purple Cap winner, with 28 wickets from 17 games for the Gujarat Titans in IPL 2023.
The back-up pace attack, minus Bumrah and Shami, has certainly lacked sting this entire series. High time Team India was able to put its best foot forward!