The recent form of several key players of India’s T20 World Cup squad, including Suryakumar Yadav, Ishan Kishan, and Rahul Chahar, doesn't inspire much confidence ahead of the sixteen-team event which will be held in the UAE and Oman. According to chief selector Chetan Sharma, Hardik Pandya is "fit" and "will bowl the full quota of his overs" during the T20 World Cup. But the all-rounder sat out the first two matches for Mumbai Indians in UAE and has played purely as a batter since then.
Considering India has picked only three specialist fast bowlers in the preliminary squad of 15, Hardik's bowling fitness will be a topic of discussion. And so will the performances of Yuzvendra Chahal, Shreyas Iyer, and Deepak Chahar, who have been in good form but are not part of the squad. Teams are allowed to make changes to their squads before the final ICC deadline on October 10.
However, Sarandeep Singh, the former national selector, doesn't foresee any late additions or omissions. "I don't think they will change the squad now. But I won't call it a balanced side," he told Sportstar .
“The performance of a few players is a concern. Batters seem to be doing okay. The bowling department looks iffy. We have only three fast bowlers; we have picked Hardik Pandya, but he hasn't bowled a single over so far in the UEA leg [of IPL]. There's no clarity on when he will bowl. The selection committee had said he is fit and will bowl his quota of four overs at the T20 World Cup. I'm sure the selectors are very much aware of the situation with Hardik. Ravi Shastri, Virat Kohli, and the support staff have to look into this because if Hardik doesn't bowl, that affects the team balance. You won't play three quicks, only two will play, and then you will have to play three spinners."
The last time Hardik bowled was on July 25 during the T20I series in Sri Lanka when he bowled two overs. Hardik has not bowled for Mumbai since the 2020 IPL. "The team plans must've been made with Hardik as a third bowling option. You pick three quicks, including Hardik, two spinners, and six batters. Now, if Hardik doesn't bowl, who is your third spinner? Ravindra Jadeja and Varun Chakravarthy walk into the XI. But Varun neither bats nor is he a good fielder. Then there's Axar Patel - he is a good fielder and can bat also. But if you play him, you'll have two left-arm spinners. You need to play one mystery spinner."
Meanwhile, after a lean first half of the IPL, Chahal has rediscovered his accuracy in the UAE. Rahul Chahar, who pipped India's highest T20I wicket-taker to the leg spinner's slot, is struggling for form. Since the IPL's restart, Chahal has taken 10 wickets in five games. Chahar has taken two in four. "Chahal has been bowling well for the last five years. He is one of the key players of RCB. When we go to a T20 World Cup, we must pick experienced players," Sarandeep said.
"Ishan and Rahul Chahar have missed a few games for MI. See, a franchise has a reputation to maintain. They won't keep playing someone just because he has been picked in a World Cup squad. If the team keeps losing and the player's performance isn't up to the mark, he will be dropped. That said, when the selectors picked the squad, the likes of Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan were doing well.
"Even Deepak Chahar has been doing well for the last two years - surprisingly, he isn't in the T20 squad. I was more surprised by Shreyas Iyer's exclusion from the squad of 15. He was injured. When Rohit Sharma recovers from an injury, he straightaway walks into the team as he should - he is a great batter. But Shreyas gets injured, and you drop him from the team. Look at the way he is batting in the second leg. All the standbys are performing.”
With Suryakumar also struggling for form, Sarandeep is not too convinced about playing him at No. 3. "Another question is who will open - given Suryakumar's form, I'm not sure if he will be an ideal batter at No. 3. So, Virat Kohli might be forced to come one down. KL and Rohit can open. But if Surya finds his touch, yes, Kohli can open. They should have included Shreyas in the squad and kept Ishan in the reserves,” he said.
Devang Gandhi, former Indian Test opener and national selector, also feels the selectors won’t go for too many changes ahead of the World Cup. "The poor form is just a mere blip. These are all proven contenders."
One could argue that the selection conundrum has arisen after the IPL 2021 was broken into two halves because of the Covid-19 pandemic. When you have that much time in between two legs, anybody can lose form, and anybody can gain momentum. It is now up to the selectors to decide whether they want to choose players on current form or if the original squad could propel India to a title tilt in less than three weeks.