How does one replace an all-phase, potentially all-time great, pacer in the squad ahead of a World Cup? That is the task facing the Indian think-tank after Jasprit Bumrah was ruled out of the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup starting in Australia shortly.
With Bumrah ruled out of the World Cup in Australia, India are yet to officially name his replacement for the main 15-member squad.
The most logical move would have been to promote the back-up pacer in reserves to the main squad and name a new back-up. But in recent days, that has become less straightforward.
First up, a quick refresher. Here’s the squad as things stand:
India squad for ICC T20 World Cup: Rohit Sharma (captain), KL Rahul (vice-captain), Virat Kohli, Suryakumar Yadav, Deepak Hooda, Rishabh Pant (wicket-keeper), Dinesh Karthik (wicket-keeper), Hardik Pandya, R Ashwin, Yuzvendra Chahal, Axar Patel, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Harshal Patel, Arshdeep Singh (Jasprit Bumrah ruled out).
Standby players - Mohammed Shami, Shreyas Iyer, Ravi Bishnoi, Deepak Chahar.
What has been said so far
In the aftermath of the series win against South Africa, where bowling concerns once again came up, coach Rahul Dravid was quoted as saying by ESPNCricinfo, “In terms of who the replacement is, we’ll have a look, we’ll see, we’ve got time till October 15. Shami obviously is someone who’s in the standbys but unfortunately for us, he couldn’t play this series, which would have been ideal from that perspective.”
The former India captain added, “He’s in the NCA at the moment – we’ll have to get reports as to how he’s recovering, and what’s his status after 14-15 days of Covid, and we’ll take a call, once I get reports on how he’s feeling, then we can take a call and the selectors can take a call on how we move forward on it. What do we expect from the guy? We just want him to play some good cricket, have fun and enjoy himself and do the best he can. It is all we can ask from people, do the best you can.”
It was the strongest hint yet that India will promote Mohammed Shami from the reserves to the main squad.
A little while earlier, captain Rohit Sharma had said, “We’ve got to get someone in who’s got experience, who’s bowled in Australia, and see what he has to offer. I don’t know who that guy is yet. There are a few guys in the reckoning for that, but we’ll make that call once we reach Australia.”
The team has since reached Australia, and played one practice match with members from the 14-man squad that has travelled. Chetan Sakariya and Mukesh Chouhdhary are also reportedly in Perth as net bowlers.
Option 1: Mohammed Shami
With Shami named in the reserves, in terms of the pace he offers and experience in Australia, he’d be the obvious choice to take Bumrah’s spot. But Shami has not played a T20I for India since the last World Cup in the United Arab Emirates last year. The last T20 he played was in May, for Gujarat Titans in the IPL 2022 final. He was named in the squad for the home series against Australia and South Africa but was ruled out of both after contracting Covid-19.
Now, as experienced as he is, and as much Rohit wants that in his squad, a player coming out of the blue to play the format when the rest of the squad has been carefully chosen based on recent performances, is a call that will be hard to fathom. There is also a school of thought that Shami, despite his part in Gujarat’s IPL-winning run, has never quite settled in this shortest format and has always been a bit of a hit-and-miss performer. Even discounting that, the lack of playing time for him in recent months is surely a strong enough reason to keep him in backups. Any amount of bowling in nets will not be enough to prove match readiness, and in a tournament where India have to hit the ground running right away, the mileage in bowlers’ legs is crucial. Shami simply doesn’t have that.
Option 2: Deepak Chahar
The other pacer in the reserves is Deepak Chahar and he did well in the recent chances he got in the home matches. He too is making a comeback from a long injury break but the most recent update we received from the BCCI was that, “Mr. Chahar had a stiffness in his back after the third and final T20I against South Africa in Indore and did not feature in India’s Playing XI in the first ODI in Lucknow. He will now head back to the National Cricket Academy (NCA) and will be monitored by the Medical Team there.”
Obviously, the first criterion is fitness. But if Chahar is indeed fit, does he provide a better option than Shami? Yes, one would think he does. Simply because he offers a lot more with the bat than any of the others in consideration. The only downside to promoting Chahar would be that there is already a Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the squad, and presumably the first choice still. Chahar offers a very similar skillset with the ball. If Chahar comes into the 15, will he be good enough to pip Bhuvaneshwar in the XI? Or will India go with a rotational option between the two? It is not straightforward, either.
Option 3: Mohammed Siraj
At the end of the IPL season, even at the end of the England series, this would have sounded like a rather fantastical thought. But he returned to the white-ball fold, when the selection committee named him as replacement for Bumrah for the remainder of the T20I series against South Africa, when the news of the pacer’s back injury came to light. And with the chances he has been given since, he has been impressive for the most part.
Even in West Indies earlier this year, Siraj showed he can be a handful at the death overs. In the ODI series that just concluded against South Africa, he was arguably the pick of the Indian bowlers, and was declared the player of the series, in what was a superb turnaround by the team after dropping the opening match. It is no mean feat to keep David Miller quiet these days in the end overs and he did that with aplomb in Ranchi. In Delhi, he set the tone for a fantastic bowling performance that saw SA bowled out for just 99.
While the formats are different (even though he did well in the one T20I too after a wobbly start), Siraj’s rhythm and form right now should, in an ideal world, make him the front-runner because he offers pace through the air and a different option to the current group of pacers in the Indian squad. This option is perhaps a gamble, but one with a better upside to it compared to any others that Rohit Sharma and Co have at the moment.
Outside the box:
Avesh Khan has been around the squad for a while now, filling in whenever the first-choice pacers have been rested or injured. But his form in recent times has dipped, and he had a tough Asia Cup campaign too, which means he has slid down the order. Shardul Thakur would be the other option, and his hit-the-deck-hard bowling style might actually come in handy in Australia. He had some good moments in India’s last tour of Australia, providing important breakthroughs across formats. In an ideal world, T Natarajan would have figured in this list given how good he was in the T20 series in Australia the last time around. But he has fallen off the radar in recent times.