Flush with exciting talent and focussed on the T20 World Cup in exactly eight months’ time, the Rohit Sharma-led Team India would be aiming to get its combinations right when it takes on the West Indies in a three-match series beginning in Kolkata on Wednesday. India were the pre-tournament favourites but made a shocking group stage exit in the last T20 World Cup held in the UAE in October-November. The shambolic campaign exposed loopholes in the team combination and temperament, spoiling Virat Kohli’s swansong as T20 skipper.
India will look to make amends and rebuild the side with a packed T20 calendar lined up ahead of the marquee event in Australia beginning October 16.
Rohit, under whom Mumbai Indians have won five IPL titles, would be looking to sort out issues such as the opening blues, the middle-lower order conundrum and also the bowling strategies.
And he will have a happy headache of plenty while trying to firm up the squad.
Just the other day at the IPL mega auction, wicketkeeper-batter Ishan Kishan hit the jackpot by landing a Rs 15.25 crore deal with Rohit’s franchise Mumbai Indians.
In fact, 10 players from the current squad landed massive deals and all eyes would also be on the likes of Shreyas Iyer (Kolkata Knight Riders Rs 12.25 crore), Harshal Patel (Royal Challengers Bangalore, Rs 10.75 crore) and Shardul Thakur (Delhi Capitals, Rs 10.75 crore).
First up would be the opening combination and who would be ideal to partner the skipper in the shortest format with his regular KL Rahul out with a left hamstring strain.
Ishan opened in the first match of their preceding three-match ODI series against the Caribbean team in Ahmedabad but the skipper also tried out Rishabh Pant and Shikhar Dhawan.
While Ishan may be the preferred choice, Rohit also has options in Maharashtra run machine Ruturaj Gaikwad who has been in red hot form but has only been warming the bench.
Then there is Venkatesh Iyer, the KKR all-rounder who shot to prominence in the UAE leg of the last IPL as a big-hitting opener with 320 runs at an average of 40 and a strike rate of 125. He was just behind Gaikwad who had more runs (407) in this period.
It will also be interesting if Virat Kohli comes out to open with Rohit to get among runs as he’s been dealing with a lean patch. His last International century came at this very venue way back in November 2019 in the pink ball day/night Test against Bangladesh.
Middle and lower order conundrum
India have a packed white ball calendar in the run up to their T20I World Cup opener against Pakistan on October 23.
So, it would not be a bad ploy for the think tank to give some much deserved rest to the dashing Pant as Ishan seems to be a confirmed selection in the side.
This will help Rohit try out both Shreyas Iyer and Surkyakumar Yadav in the same XI. The duo was in fine form in the recently-concluded ODI series.
Suryakumar was the top scorer in the ODI series with 104 runs at an average of 52.00, while Iyer scored a match-winning 80 in their 3-0 series sweeping win in the third ODI.
India also have some exciting options lower down the order with the likes of Shardul Thakur, Deepak Chahar and Harshal Patel.
Patel impressed with a fine cameo of 11-ball 18 to prop up India’s total to a match-winning 184/7 from 140/6 in his only outing in the series against New Zealand just after the World Cup.
Bishnoi will fancy his chances
Fresh from a stupendous comeback series in the ODIs, Yuzvendra Chahal will be India’s regular spin option but it remains to be seen if exciting Rajasthan leg-spinner Ravi Bishnoi gets a maiden call up.
He was rewarded after an impressive run in the IPL and domestic circuit to be selected for the series.
With Washington Sundar ruled out of the series with a hamstring injury, it remains to be seen if the youngster from Jodhpur will get his maiden International cap.
West Indies aim for improvements
Unlike their flop show in the ODI series, the Kieron Pollard-led West Indies would look to give a strong fight to the hosts in their favourite T20 format.
Boasting of T20 specialists, the Windies came here after beating England 3-2 at home in a thrilling five-match series.
They bat deep and with some aggressive hitters, the West Indies will hope to give India a tough fight.
Jason Holder has been in fine form for them and took four wickets in four balls in the final ODI against England to return with career-best figures of 5/27.
With some exciting all-round options in Odean Smith and Akeal Hosein, Pollard’s men would look to make it count at a venue where they won the T20 World Cup in 2016.
Dew factor, a concern?
With the chill in the air, dew can be a concern for both the teams at the Eden.
The CAB has kept four pitches ready for the three matches to be played in five days.
India T20I Squad: Rohit Sharma (captain), Ishan Kishan, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, Surya Kumar Yadav, Rishabh Pant (wicket-keeper), Venkatesh Iyer, Deepak Chahar, Shardul Thakur, Ravi Bishnoi, Yuzvendra Chahal, Mohammed Siraj, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Avesh Khan, Harshal Patel, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Deepak Hooda, Kuldeep Yadav and Harpreet Brar.
West Indies T20I Squad: Kieron Pollard (captain), Nicholas Pooran (vice-captain), Fabian Allen, Darren Bravo, Roston Chase, Sheldon Cottrell, Dominic Drakes, Jason Holder, Shai Hope, Akeal Hosein, Brandon King, Rovman Powell, Romario Shepherd, Odean Smith, Kyle Mayers, Hayden Walsh Jr.
Match starts: 7 pm IST.
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