With sporting events all over the world postponed for the foreseeable future, all eyes now turn to the upcoming T20 World Cup which is still on schedule according to the latest reports. The event is set to take place in Australia from 18 October to 15 November.
After their historic victory in the inaugural edition in 2007, the Men in Blue have faced a series of disappointments in the tournament. From super-six exits in 2009, 2010, and 2012, a heartbreaking loss in the final in 2014 and a catastrophe at home in the 2016 semi-final. The trophy has eluded India for 13 years and this drought is something Virat Kohli's team would want to end.
While India will go into the tournament as one of the favorites, there are still some issues to resolve. One of them is deciding the shape of their fast-bowling attack.
Over recent times especially with Hardik Pandya in the squad, the Men in Blue have opted to play two pacers in the line-up. However, in recent times, India have become cautious about using both Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav together. Additionally, there is added trust in spin bowling all-rounders like Ravindra Jadeja, Washington Sundar, and Krunal Pandya which makes a three-man pace attack very likely. Ultimately, one can expect at least four pacers in the 15-man squad.
In Jasprit Bumrah, India has arguably the best T20 bowler in the world. Having taken 59 wickets in 50 matches, he is India's all-time highest wicket-taker in the history of the format. His average of 20.25 and an economy rate of 6.66 is nothing short of exceptional. The Gujarat-pacer has played an instrumental role in Mumbai Indians' Indian Premier League (IPL) win in 2017 and 2019. His ability to suffocate batsman from scoring runs in the death overs is simply an invaluable quality. If India play two front-line pacers beside Pandya, then who will make it to the first team to share the new ball with Bumrah? Even if they play three front-line pacers, there might be more competition for the seniors than imagined.
Also see – IPL 2020 Team
The quest for Bumrah's partner
Who shares the attack with Bumrah remains a big question. While Bhuvneshwar Kumar has been the go-to pacer in T20s for a long while, his frequent injury troubles put his selection under a bit of a cloud. His form doesn't seem too promising either. In the last two seasons of the IPL, he averaged 39.33 and 35.46 which is a massive decline from his career average of 23.71 in the tournament. Likewise, in international T20s, Kumar's average has dropped from 26.53 to 36.15 in the last two years.
Another obvious option that is bound to become a popular choice is Mohammed Shami. Over the last 24 months, the Bengal pacer has grown as one of the best in the world in Test cricket and the 50-over format.
However, the same cannot be said in T20 cricket. His economy rate in IPL has not been lower than eight in any season. Impressive performances in the 2019 season where he took he was among the highest wicket-takers with 19 scalps to his name have bought him into reckoning in the shortest format. However, in the three years before that, he conceded at more than nine per over despite playing very few matches.
Apart from last year, his average has not been lower than 48 in any edition of the competition. Shami's international T20I record is equally poor with an economy rate of 9.63 and an average of 31.83 in 11 matches. As a result, his selection is not a straight-forward conclusion.
With doubts over senior players like Bhuvenshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami, India is bound to look for options beyond. Luckily for Virat Kohli, some young pacers have made their mark and made a strong case for themselves.
What are the other options?
A player who has risen in the ranks in recent times is Navdeep Saini. The Delhi pacer caught the world's eye with impressive performances in the 2019 edition of the IPL for Royal Challengers Bangalore despite a forgettable year for the team.
Later, he was drafted into the Indian team and has made a mark immediately. In 10 T20Is he has featured in, Saini has taken 13 wickets at an outstanding economy rate of 7.15 with an average of 18.10. His express pace and bounce make him an ideal candidate for Australian conditions and is someone who will fancy his chances of boarding the flight for Down Under.
Another promising option is Deepak Chahar who has become an integral part of Chennai Super Kings's since 2018. In their title win In 2018, Mahendra Singh Dhoni used him as an exclusive new-ball bowler.
Taking 10 wickets at an economy rate of 7.28, he played a crucial role in helping the franchise lift the trophy for the third time. In the following season, Chahar emerged as a more well-rounded option as he took on the additional responsibility of bowling in the death. Taking 22 wickets, he was the third-highest wicket-taker in the 2019 season.
Like Saini, he is also someone who has impressed at the international level, having taken 17 wickets in 10 matches. He also took a hat-trick against Bangladesh last year in Nagpur. Additionally, his prowess with the bat makes him a valuable asset for any team. If Chahar can prove his fitness after returning from the back injury which has kept him out of cricket since December, there is no reason to suggest why he will not be among the names in contention to make the squad.
One more Super Kings bowler who has become an important utility member of the squad is Shardul Thakur. Owing to his all-round abilities, the team management has given him multiple opportunities to stake his claim in the team. However, he has failed to impress at the international level with the ball.
Thakur has featured in 14 T20Is in which he has taken 21 wickets but at an extremely high economy rate of 8.73. Even in 50-over cricket, he concedes runs at seven runs per over. With someone consistently bowling such expensive spells, it is hard to justify giving him a place in a T20 team. However, the Mumbai pacer's wicket-taking ability and more importantly knack of getting runs lower down the order might still help find him place in the team.
A surprise selection could be that of Karnataka pacer Prasad Krishna. While yet to make his international debut, he is someone who is definitely on Kohli's radar. Before India's series against Sri Lanka, the Indian captain spoke highly about the 24-year-old. Playing for the Kolkata Knight Riders, Krishna has taken 14 wickets over the last two seasons in the IPL. Over recent times, the Karnataka pacer has emerged as one of the most promising upcoming pacers across formats in India's domestic circuit.
This is where the likely cancellation of the IPL could come as a huge blow at this point in time. It will deny youngsters like Saini, Chahar, Shardul, and Krishna the chance to outwit each other and earn a place in the WT20 squad. Moreover, it would have been a golden opportunity for senior players like Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami to prove their fitness and form in T20 cricket.
As things stand, there will be very few opportunities for each player before the showpiece event begins in October. With not much to choose, a lot could come down to the player's fitness level when sporting action resumes. As time runs out, it won't be surprising if experience and Virat Kohli's gut feel captain become key factors in making the final call.