By Nishad Pai Vaidya
With two T20 internationals ahead, India gets a fantastic opportunity to test a few combinations in the lead-up to the ICC World T20 2012. Since the triumphant campaign at the inaugural edition of the tournament, India haven’t been the force in the shorter format despite ample exposure in competitions such as the Indian Premier League (IPL) and the Champions League T20 (CLT20). It is time India get their act together as the World T20 is undoubtedly the most coveted cup in the shortest format. It is imperative that they perform well in the T20 series against New Zealand – as it would be a great confidence booster.
The Yuvraj Singh comeback has overshadowed the contest and has dominated the headlines. But one mustn’t forget the fact that there is a cricket match yet to be played on the field. The side is different from the one that took on Sri Lanka last month and India have to zero in on the best eleven. The batting looks well set and Yuvraj is poised to walk in without much trouble. However, Mahendra Singh Dhoni may have to scratch his head to chalk out the perfect bowling combination.
Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj Singh and Dhoni should form the top seven for India. There is no doubt that Gambhir and Sehwag would open – two men who sparkled at the IPL earlier this year and are a reputed combination. After that, picking an order becomes a bit tricky. The five remaining players have all batted at the top and can compete for either number three and four.
In India’s last T20 international, Kohli batted at number three and scored a fantastic 68. Given his form and remarkable consistency, he merits that position and should be the front-runner. Raina may present some competition as he has sparkled at the said spot in the past. Dhoni may be tempted to send him in at three, but Kohli’s form is too good to be denied the crucial spot – one that is usually occupied by someone who can anchor the innings.
With Yuvraj coming into the team, the race for the number four spot intensifies. During the victorious ICC World T20 2007, Yuvraj batted at the said position and was immensely successful. However, he is making a comeback and it may be a bit of gamble to play him upfront. He may have done well at number four in the past, but it came at a time when he was fully fit. Things are very different this time around.
Raina should bat ahead of Rohit as the latter has been struggling for form off-late. The southpaw would be more confident and is an automatic choice ahead of Rohit. In fact, the Mumbai batsman may face some competition from Manoj Tiwary for a spot in the eleven itself. However, he seems to enjoy the team management’s confidence and one can say that is a near certainty in India’s T20 eleven. Tiwary may yet again have to bide his time and warm the benches.
Dhoni doesn’t boast of a good strike-rate in international T20s. For some bizarre reasons, he has been too slow in a number of T20 internationals – almost as if he was consolidating in a one-day game. There have been the odd knocks where he has been belligerent – something he has to do more frequently. He shouldn’t get into a shell and merely express himself in the middle like he usually does. Number seven may be the spot for him – one where he would generally come in during the slog overs and go after the bowlers immediately.
The make-up of India’s bowling line-up would heavily depend on the number of spinners India chooses to play. Ravichandran Ashwin is the only spinner who is assured of a spot in the eleven. The question is: Who would be his partner in-case India opt for two spinners? Harbhajan Singh and Piyush Chawla aren’t exactly the best options at this stage. Harbhajan may have picked up wickets in county cricket, but is it enough for him to get back into the Indian team following a very poor year. Chawla has a tendency to be expensive in patches – something that can cost a team dearly.
Zaheer Khan will lead the fast bowling pack. Ashok Dinda and Irfan Pathan would battle it out for the second fast-bowlers spot in the eventuality of India playing two pacers. Both were fantastic in the T20 against Sri Lanka as they were the wreckers-in-chief. Pathan’s inclusion would give the batting more depth whereas Dinda has generally been good in the shortest format – and he may be the best option to partner Zaheer. With him as the second fast bowler, it would add variety as he is a right-armer. Lakshmipathy Balaji may not be in the fray as the trio are much ahead of him in the pecking order.
India have to look at these two T20s as a dress rehearsal for the World T20. They may have a few warm-up games ahead of the main event, but the two upcoming matches are the final chances in a competitive environment. One thing they may want to change is the fact that India have never beaten New Zealand in a T20 international.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar's dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44 )