Desperate for a first men’s T20 World Cup trophy since winning the inaugural edition in 2007, India isn't exactly waltzing into the competition Down Under. Rohit Sharma's men suffered an early exit from this year's T20 Asia Cup held in the UAE and would be keen on course correction. The top four of India's World Cup squad - Rohit, K. L. Rahul, Virat Kohli and Suryakumar Yadav - picked themselves. But there is plenty of competition for places in the middle to lower order. Here's what the makeup of India's XI could look like.
The top three
Rohit, Rahul and Kohli are likely to remain India’s first-choice top three. Rahul came under scrutiny at the recently concluded Asia Cup, where his PowerPlay strike rate was 113.43. Rahul is the designated vice-captain, and on that basis should be an automatic selection. It will be interesting to see if Rahul can adapt his game to the traditionally fast and bouncy pitches in Australia, given his general preference for pace bowling. Against pace, he averages 56.86 at a strike rate of 125.23 in the PowerPlay in all T20s. That being said, Rahul has scored just 45 off 38 against pacers in the PowerPlay in Australia, averaging 45 at 118.42. Rahul also found backing from captain Rohit Sharma recently: “KL Rahul, according to me, will play the World Cup, and open,” Rohit said. “His performances for India tend to go unnoticed. He is a very important player for India. If you look at his record over the last two-three years, it is very good.”
Meanwhile, Kohli, for his part, showed during the Asia Cup his willingness to implement India's new aggressive approach upfront. He ended the tournament with 276 runs - second behind Mohammad Rizwan - at a strike rate of 147.59. The upward move in Kohli's strike rate between overs 7 and 16 encapsulates the changing demands on anchors in T20s; he lifted his T20I strike rate in middle overs from 117.64 in seven innings in 2021 to 129.49 in the same number of innings in 2022; it was 136.73 during this Asia Cup.
India could also benefit from Kohli's ability to take singles and ensure a more dominant batter could move on strike; it was evident during Suryakumar Yadav's blitzkrieg against Hong Kong in the Asia Cup. Yadav walked out to bat at the fall of Rahul in the 13th over. Between overs 13 and 20, India's No. 4 faced 26 balls for 68 while Kohli took 34 off 20, focusing on rotating strike through ones (10). But Kohli also struck three sixes during this phase to ensure Yadav wasn't under undue pressure. Kohli's ability to score runs in all sorts of conditions will come in handy.
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Rohit has attempted to fly off the blocks while opening the batting and his T20I strike rate in the PowerPlay is evidence of the shift in approach. From January 2019 to the end of the last year's T20 World Cup in November, he had struck at 139.07 in the first six overs in all T20Is. Since the start of 2022, the T20I powerplay strike rate has gone up to 145.91.
Kohli ‘third opener’
Interestingly, in the lead-up to the T20I series against Australia, Rohit said: “I have had a chat with [head coach] Rahul bhai [Dravid] that we will have to open with Virat in some matches because he is our third opener. We saw that in the last match, and we are quite happy with what we saw. I don’t think we will experiment for that position a lot.”
Kohli’s hundred in the Asia Cup - his 71st international ton - came while opening the batting. As opener in all T20s, Kohli averages 43.23 at a strike rate of 137.24. However that strike rate dips considerably in the PowerPlay - 123.74 in all T20s. But each time Kohli has managed to bat till the end of a T20 match, he has been destructive at the death, striking at over 200 while averaging over 30.
India has a headache here, especially for No. 6 and 7 with Yadav and Hardik Pandya being automatic picks for No. 4 and 5, respectively. Dinesh Karthik has been picked in the squad as a specialist finisher. At IPL 2022, he had a death-overs strike rate of 220, second best after Jos Buttler (236.53) among batters who faced at least 50 balls between overs 17 and 20. In all T20Is this year, Karthik has faced 82 balls at the death, scoring at 170.73. He has been India's preferred finisher in 2022 and is a strong contender for the No. 7 slot.
He has competition from Rishabh Pant, who has the added advantage of being a left-hander in a lineup that has just lost Ravindra Jadeja to injury. In IPL 2022, Pant averaged 32 in death overs and struck at 177.77 in just three innings. In T20Is this year, his average is 34.50 in death overs, and his strike rate 172.50.
However, it's Karthik's proficiency against pace bowling at the death that gives him an edge over his younger teammate. In IPL 2022, Karthik was striking at an astounding 254.65 (13 innings) against pace between overs 17 and 20; Pant at 135.71 although the sample size was too small (two innings).
Given that bulk of India's opponents in the group stage are likely to resort to larger proportion of fast bowling at the death, the brains trust has its task cut out. Pant had an underwhelming Asia Cup with the bat, making scores of 14, 17 and 20 not out in three outings, which does not help his case.
Also, if India does pick Axar Patel as Jadeja's like-for-like replacement at 6, then Pant could face the axe. However, Patel didn't get a chance straightaway in the absence of Jadeja at the Asia Cup.
Arshdeep Singh's inclusion is indicative of India buying into the idea of specialists for very specific jobs, death bowling in this case. With a minimum of 30 balls bowled between overs 17 and 20, Arshdeep had the third-best economy rate at the death in this Asia Cup (9.81).
In IPL 2022, with a minimum of 50 balls bowled between overs 17 and 20, only Jasprit Bumrah managed a better economy rate than Arshdeep (7.58) at 7.38. Arshdeep's left-arm angle also brings variety to the attack.
Assuming Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar will walk into the XI, and that India will choose three specialist pacers, the toss-up will be between Arshdeep and Harshal Patel, who is back after an injury layoff. One look at Harshal’s phase-wise bowling breakup in T20Is this year suggests he is most effective in middle overs (132 balls, 7.18 in 13 innings, nine wickets) and at the death (109 balls, 11.11 in 13 innings, eight wickets).
His economy rate while bowling in the PowerPlay was 7.88. He bowled just 54 balls and picked up two wickets in nine innings. Harshal’s cocktail of slower balls and yorkers saw him win the Purple Cap (highest wicket-taker) in IPL 2021. Harshal can also contribute with the bat at No. 8.
On the other hand, Arshdeep has been excellent at the death in T20Is in 2022. He has 10 wickets at 6.70 (85 balls) in nine innings and three in the PowerPlay at 7.89 (114 balls) in 11 innings. He has rarely been used in the middle overs, where he has only one wicket at 7.40.
However, while in this year's IPL, Harshal's economy rate (9.58) between 17 and 20 was poorer than Arshdeep's, he had taken more wickets (9) than the left-arm quick (4). Harshal bowled a total of 129 balls at the death while Arshdeep bowled 102. It'll be interesting to see who between the two gets the nod.
In the spin department, a choice could be made based on the nature of the opposition line-up. Against Pakistan, which could've a clutch of left-handers in the top 7, off-spinner Ashwin may play ahead of Chahal. That said, on bigger grounds in Australia, Chahal could be both an attacking and defensive option in the middle overs.
(Note: all stats are updated as of 19th September)
Potential starting XI v Pakistan
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