Chance for newbies, inexperienced players to impress as Rohit and Co face tougher Windies challenge in T20Is

“We just asked them (players) to focus on the colour blue for the next two weeks, nothing else.”: Rohit Sharma.

After the high octane action off the field at the IPL 2022 auction, we are set for some high-voltage action on the field as the cricketing roller-coaster travels from Ahmedabad to Bengaluru to destination Kolkata where India take on West Indies in a three-match T20I series. And both the teams would be looking to get their focus back to cricket on the field. India captain Rohit Sharma’s message to the players was simple and straight, ‘leave the emotions off the field and get your minds on it’. And it will be no different for the Windies side that would be looking to bounce back after the ODI series loss.

The presence of bowling all-rounders give India the batting depth. There’s Shardul Thakur, Deepak Chahar, who’s improved his batting and played a couple of impact innings, and Harshal Patel. AP

Riding high on confidence after a 3-0 ODI clean sweep of West Indies, India would look to take another step towards building for another T20 World Cup in Australia which is just seven months away. Ahead of the series, they have been hit by injuries and with some of the seniors being rested the focus will be on the inexperienced players and relative newcomers. It’s another chance for the debutants and players who are at a nascent stage in their international careers to impress and stake a claim for the T20 World Cup. It will also help India build towards plugging the holes, gauging their bench strength and keeping the back-ups ready.

KL Rahul, Axar Patel and Washington Sundar have been ruled out due to injuries. So it opens up the door for the likes of Ruturaj Gaikwad, debutants Ravi Bishnoi, Avesh Khan and Deepak Hooda, Venkatesh Iyer, Harshal Patel, Ishan Kishan to get some game time in the international arena, learn and strengthen their cases for the world event amid intense competition.

It’s a crucial time for them as well as they look to get their focus back on the field after the IPL auctions. And that’s the message sent out by the team management – “The IPL auction is done and dusted. Focus on the colour blue right now.”

Kishan has been riding a crest of a wave in the last couple of years, scoring consistently for Mumbai Indians and in the domestic arena as well. He started off his international career in style with a 32-ball 56 blitz against England on his T20I debut earning him the Man of the Match award and a six off the first ball against Sri Lanka on his ODI debut, scoring 59 off 42 balls. And now he’s hit a jackpot at the IPL 2022 auction becoming the second-most expensive player ever at the auctions as MI splashed Rs 15.25 crore for the Jharkhand boy.

In absence of Rahul, Kishan will compete with Ruturaj Gaikwad and maybe Venkatesh Iyer as well for that opening slot along side Rohit. But with India mostly preferring Iyer for middle order and Kishan bringing in the left-right combo at the crease, the balance might tilt in Kishan’s favour. Also, he symbolises the new fearless approach that India are looking to adopt in the T20s, moving away from a more conservative one. With Rohit and Kohli, the two anchors at the top, Kishan can play that aggressor role. Once Rahul comes back, he will take up that opening role but Kishan has shown his versatility in the IPL and can bat at No 3 or in the middle order as well.

There is competition in the middle order as well with the likes of Suryakumar Yadav, Shreyas Iyer, Venkatesh Iyer, Deepak Hooda in the squad.

Suryakumar has played just 11 T20Is and sparkled in the international arena and he will mostly compete with Iyer for that No. 4/5 slot. Suryakumar too has burst onto the international scene in style, averaging 34.85 in T20Is and 53.40 in ODIs. What can pip the balance in his favour is his ability to score quick in that middle phase and play the spinners better. In his nascent T20I career so far he’s scored at a strike rate of 155.41, while Iyer has a SR of 132.11.

India can play both but then they could miss out on the sixth bowling option which Hooda or Iyer provide. Debutant Hooda has been new to the international scene and impressed on his ODI debut against West Indies with a couple of camos and picking up a wicket as well.

Iyer made his debut in the T20I series against New Zealand last year and managed 36 runs from three innings which included one unbeaten knock of 12. He didn’t have the best of times with the bat in South Africa ODIs, scoring 24 runs from two innings. He didn’t find a place in the ODI squad for West Indies. He’s bowled just 18 balls in T20Is, picking up one wicket. It’s too early to judge him but he will surely need to step up soon given the competition for the spots.

Maybe if they decide to rest Rishabh Pant, both Suryakumar and Iyer could play in the side with Kishan taking up the gloves.

The presence of bowling all-rounders give India the batting depth. There’s Shardul Thakur, Deepak Chahar, who’s improved his batting and played a couple of impact innings, and Harshal Patel.

The Eden Gardens track has generally assisted the pacers in the last few years so there are chances that India might go in with three pacer-two spinner strategy. Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami have been rested so in their absence, Mohammed Siraj has a good chance of starting given that he brings in the raw pace factor. India might opt for experience of Bhuvneshwar over Avesh Khan or Harshal Patel for the other slot.

However, it would be hard to ignore Patel who has been a consistent performer in the IPL, a 2021 purple cap holder, a fantastic death bowler, a handy lower-order hitter and someone who’s finished as the joint-highest wicket-taker in his debut series (4 wickets from 2 matches at 12.75 and economy rate of 7.28, against New Zealand last year), including a man of the match performance on his international debut and someone who’s just fetched 10.75 crore at the IPL auction to be retained by the same franchise (RCB).

Avesh too might get a look in at some point. He sprung into the limelight during the 2021 IPL finishing as the second-highest wicket-taker with 24 wickets from 16 matches at 18.75 and an impressive economy rate of 7.37. He can generate pace, swing and seam them and bowl disciplined spells. He’s been lurking on the fringes of late. At the recent auction he became the highest paid uncapped player in history of IPL auction as he was snapped up by Lucknow Super Giants for Rs 10 crore.

The final spot might be a toss-up between Shardul and Chahar. It’s a tough call given both have done well with the bat and ball. The swing and the powerplay bowling factor might provide Chahar the upper hand.

In the spin department, India could have a look in for newcomer Ravi Bishnoi who’s one of the shining lights in Punjab Kings’ disappointing campaigns in the last couple of years. His zippy leg spinners along with lethal googlies have achieved him a lot of success in the IPL and the domestic arena.

He would be itching to hit the big stage which could be a crucial learning experience for the youngster.

However, with chances of Yuzvendra Chahal, who seems to have found his mojo back, spearheading the spin attack, it would be interesting to see whether India go with two right-arm spinners in Chahal and Bishoni or the left-arm dimension of Kuldeep, a late addition to the squad in place of Washington Sundar which could finally see the reunion of ‘KulCha‘.

While the newbies and inexperienced players look to make a mark, the experienced Virat Kohli would look to turn around his fortunes after a sedate ODI series where he scored 8, 18 and 0 in three innings.

West Indies, on the other hand, would be looking to hit the refresh button after a clean sweep in the ODI series. Their batting let them down again in the ODIs and coach admitted that their ODI batting was a ‘huge concern’ and ‘needed urgent attention’.

Their batting is in a bit of a better space in the T20Is though but they would demand more consistency. They have named the same squad that beat England 3-2 at home. They have some explosive all-round options on Rovman Powell, Odean Smith, Akeal Hosein, Jason Holder, Fabian Allen, Romario Shepherd. Powell played a couple of whirlwind knocks against England and struck at a mind-boggling strike rate of 193.2 which included a 53-ball 107 at Bridgetown.

The experience of fit-again captain Kieron Pollard and Nicholas Pooran will be crucial in absence of Evin Lewis (recovering from COVID-19) and Shimron Hetmyer(unfit). Pooran managed just 61 runs from three innings in the ODI series. He was their highest run-getter in the England series and he’s been their highest run-getter in last one year (From 1 Jan 2021 – 648 runs from 30 matches at 28.17). He would look to add some more consistency to the talent he possesses.

The West Indies batting depth will pose a stern challenge for the Indian bowlers.

Jason Holder will be their lynchpin in the bowling line-up. He was the highest wicket-taker against England with 15 wickets which included four wickets in four balls in the final T20I at Bridgetown that helped West Indies clinch the series. It was their bowlers who kept them in the contest in the ODI series and they would look to continue the good work in the T20Is as well.

The dew factor will also kick in which could make the toss crucial.

West Indies have historically done well in this format. They however haven’t had a good record against India. They have lost 10 of the 17 T20Is with one ending in No Result. In India, they have won just two of the seven matches and lost five. India have won the last three T20I series played between the two sides.

A confident India will be up against an explosive West Indies side: this series could well see a better and more competitive battle than the ODI series which finished one-sided.

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