India’s captain Virat Kohli has said that having a strong pool of “game-ready” players has set the scene for their T20 World Cup campaign in Australia later this year.
India will be without seamers Deepak Chahar (injured), Bhuvneshwar Kumar (injured) and Mohammed Shami (rested) for their upcoming three-match T20I series at home against Sri Lanka, but they have able back-up options in Navdeep Saini and Shardul Thakur. In addition, their premier fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah is set to return to international action for the first time September 2019.
On the batting front, they will be without the rested Rohit Sharma, but they still look in fine shape, with Shikhar Dhawan returning from injury to partner the in-form KL Rahul at the top of the order.
“T20 is something we don’t have any problems in picking players,” Kohli said of India’s bench strength on the eve of the series opener in Guwahati. “Because you have the IPL. At a very competitive level, the guys have been performing season after season.
“And all the players you see are probably the most important Indian players in their team in the IPL. So, from that point of view, it’s about figuring out which player can fit in at what time and what’s the strongest combination you can take to the World Cup.
“And everyone’s game-ready, which is the most important thing and the biggest plus of having a squad like this with guys who have played a lot of T20 cricket, as I said, at a very competitive level.
“So, yeah the next few series will be very exciting to see [as to] who stands up under pressure situations and how they react to pressure when maybe Rohit or maybe myself, or KL or Shikhar at the top haven’t fired.”
In Dhawan’s absence, Rahul had enjoyed a longer stint at the top during the limited-overs series against West Indies and embodied India’s new, attack-at-all costs approach in T20Is. Now, with Rohit rested, Dhawan will have an opportunity to regain his touch after recovering from injury.
Dhawan didn’t quite have the weight of T20I runs behind him in 2019, and suffered two major injuries that year. However, he was the top scorer in T20Is in 2018, with 689 runs in 17 innings at an average of 40.52 and strike rate of 147.22.
Kohli discussed the possible toss-up between Rahul and Dhawan for the second opener’s slot while keeping all the cards close to his chest.
“Rahul’s has done really well for himself and it’s good for the team as well that he’s coming into his own,” Kohli said. “We know how good a player he is and what he can do with the bat. We are happy that he’s got runs so consistently.
“Look, these things happen in cricket that some guy gets injured and another guy comes in and grabs that opportunity. I think it all boils down to who is batting [well] at that moment.You want to go into a tournament with the strongest XI you can compile. Shikhar has been unfortunate in terms of injury but he’s an experienced player. That’s the dynamic of the squad.
“When Rohit comes back, it’s going to be a difficult thing to address because Shikhar is an experienced player but KL is playing so well. We have to decide the best combination to go with and what’s the best eleven we can go with.”
Kohli was also particularly enthused with the progress made by both Saini and Thakur – both of whom were not part of India’s T20I squad for the West Indies series. Saini has cracked T20 cricket after bowling lengthy spells in the Ranji Trophy while Thakur has been drafted back on his back of his impressive performances in the IPL and more recently in the ODI series decider against West Indies in Cuttack.
Kohli believed that having all bases covered on the bowling front will benefit India on the larger grounds in Australia during the T20 World Cup.
“Saini is a different case because he has come from the domestic set-up into the IPL and into the Indian team,” Kohli said. “So, he has bowled quite a bit and has good understanding of lines and lengths and he’s obviously got pace. Thakur, again, has played a lot of T20 cricket and has been playing the IPL for a while. And, he’s quite experienced in that regard.
“Bhuvi, Bumrah, we really don’t have to discuss [about them]. Shami is again someone who will always stay in the mix. And Deepak Chahar has bowled really well for the number of games he has played.
“Because the tournament is in Australia, you will need these many options and back-ups to be able to take firstly your strongest squad and have those back-ups in place who also can come in and do the job.
“It’s good that we’ve identified five or six guys and it will be priority based on who goes and back-ups will be in place for fast bowlers. Small niggles can happen now and then, so we’re pretty sorted in that regard. So, not a worry at all.”
India finished 2019 unbeaten in Tests, shed their conservative approach in T20Is, and were also on a roll in ODIs until New Zealand stopped them in their tracks in the 50-over World Cup semi-final. Another World Cup year has dawned, and Kohli set India’s focus towards the ICC tournament, challenging them to build on the gains from the past year.
“We want to keep the standard as high as we can because it’s very important to understand that there’s a young influence that’s coming into the team now,” he said. And they need to be able to take the same culture and same mindset forward. Little transitions keep happening and we want to make sure that the guys who are coming in are on the same page and get up to speed as soon as possible.
“We need to keep growing these younger guys into guys who will take the team forward. I think the main focus is on that and the ICC tournaments that are coming along, that’s something we are going to target.”