In a few days from now, India will play Pakistan in their first match of the T20 World Cup. A week after their first match, they will play New Zealand and given how the Super 12 stage is set up, Virat Kohli and Co will have to hit the ground running in these matches.
Pakistan and New Zealand are the toughest sides in India’s group and losses against them could mean an early end to India’s World Cup hopes. It is the pressure of a different kind and while India have the quality, there will also know that mistakes will be punished.
The warm-up games against England and Australia were just an opportunity for the Indian team to find some momentum and get playing time as a unit. But given what is coming up next, they also gave us some clues about how the Indian team will turn out during the World Cup.
Here are some key takeaways from the warm-up games:
KL the aggressor
A license to go for the shots at the top of the order. As KL Rahul showed during the match against England (51 off 24) and even against Australia (39 off 31), he will be the opener charged with the responsibility of making the most out of the Powerplay overs. This should allow Rohit Sharma to play his normal game, take his time to get going and truly find the big-hitting rhythm in the second half of the innings. Rahul can do this and do it very well — he has a wide range of shots and is capable of taking advantage of the field restrictions. Too often in the past we have seen him settle into the anchor role for the Punjab Kings in the IPL, but given that the Indian team management has given him a specific role, the uncluttered mindset should set him free and bring out his very best.
Kohli at No 3
The big disclosure ahead of the first warm-up game was skipper Kohli revealing what would be India’s top three in the World Cup. KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma will be the openers and Kohli, himself, would slot in at No 3. But as we have seen during the IPL and in other T20 leagues around the world, change is always the order of the day. Kohli usually takes a bit to get going and there is a slowdown after that too. If India have gotten off to a good start, he must consider sending in Suryakumar Yadav ahead of him. Yadav has shown himself to be much more creative with his choice of shots and that allows him to keep the run rate up even when the field is well spread out. The other option is for Kohli to just let loose. The big sixes don’t come as easily to him but he would need to let loose as we know he can. Mahendra Singh Dhoni will be on hand to offer ‘practical advice’ and we have often seen him roll in the changes at Chennai Super Kings as well.
Hardik Pandya’s bowling
The big unknown variable for India at this point is Hardik Pandya’s bowling. Rohit Sharma has mentioned that the allrounder should be fit enough to bowl in India’s first game of the T20 World Cup but he hasn’t bowled for a long time now. There will surely have been sessions in the nets but that can’t make up for a lack in match practice. And it is something that can go pretty wrong as well. But Pandya’s bowling can help India achieve greater balance in their squad and it can even allow Kohli and Co to experiment with bowling set-up — play more spinners or pace based on the pitch. It allows for more options and that is something that every skipper craves.
Ravindra Jadeja is probably the only certainty in India’s spin line-up. His batting and fielding abilities give him an edge there. But in case India play just two spinners, who will they go with? Kohli has spoken about why he likes Rahul Chahar, the leg-spinner who ‘bowls with pace’ and ‘bowled the difficult overs well’ in the IPL. Then, there is the experience of Ashwin Ravichandran and the many variations he brings to the table. And finally, there is perhaps the most in-form spinner of them all in Varun Chakravarthy. The mystery spinner can be superb on his day and was vital in KKR’s great run in IPL 2021, but he isn’t very experienced at the highest level where the handling of pressure can be a big factor. It won’t be an easy call to make — but it will be a vital one.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s resurgence
Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s class is beyond doubt but his recent form had been poor. At his best, he along with Jasprit Bumrah solved India’s death bowling problems. But injuries have derailed his progression over the last two years. In the 2021 season of the IPL, Bhuvneshwar only claimed 6 wickets in 11 matches and there were some concerns about his form leading into the tournament as well. In the first warm-up game against England, the pacer was smashed for 54 runs in 4 overs and it was vital that he turn in a better performance against Australia. He seemed to recover his poise a bit and finished with 4-0-27-1. There is still room for improvement but if he can find his best form, Kohli and India will feel much more secure in the slog overs.