In an ideal world, we would have known the next world champions of men’s T20 cricket by now. The year started with all the teams focussing on the shortest format, setting their sights on the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup that was scheduled to be held in Australia later on. But, here we are, on the back of a few T20 tournaments / international matches in the last couple of months, looking forward to a bilateral series between Australia and India.

The schedule might have been thrown off the tracks big time, but the focus for these teams will remain on that T20 World Cup, which is now scheduled to be held in India in 2021.

The first of the three T20Is between India and Australia will start off in Canberra on Friday.

Back in New Zealand at the start of the year, Virat Kohli might have called ODIs not quite relevant in 2020 and that sort of reflected in India’s approach in the first two ODIs on their tour of Australia. But the T20Is are (or rather, should be) a different story.

India T20I squad for Australia series: Virat Kohli (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Mayank Agarwal, KL Rahul (vice-captain and wicket-keeper), Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Hardik Pandya, Sanju Samson (wicket-keeper), Ravindra Jadeja, Washington Sundar, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Navdeep Saini, Deepak Chahar, T Natarajan.  

So, keeping the 2021 T20 World Cup in mind and looking back at IPL 2020, what’s the best XI that Kohli can select for the series opener?

What would be India’s best XI?

Openers: KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan. After yet another 600-run season, Rahul established himself during the IPL as a top T20 batsman but, whisper it without him hearing, his strike rates were a concern. The brilliance of Rahul is his fearless approach and one would hope that batting for India, without too much burden to save his wicket, he will back his ability to score at a good clip. As for Dhawan, he is a batsman reborn almost. After showing signs of scoring at a quicker rate in IPL 2019, Dhawan made it happen more often and with more consistency in IPL 2020. He might have been out on zero a few times, but he seems to have understood that T20 cricket is not about restrictive batting. It’s tough on Mayank Agarwal, but Dhawan’s form merits a selection.

Anchor: Virat Kohli, no doubt. He did not have the best of IPL with the bat, his captaincy in white-ball cricket is once again under scrutiny (that’s a debate for another day) but let’s not kid ourselves into thinking he is not the best in the business at what he does. There is still a place for anchor in a T20 batting lineup (not the singular) but one can only hope India does not pack their side with batsmen who have similar approach.

Middle order: First things first, Suryakumar Yadav should have been in contention here. That’s not a reality, so we turn to the other options at Kohli’s disposal: Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey and Sanju Samson. As mentioned above, having Iyer and Pandey follow Kohli feels like a one-dimensional batting lineup. Both of them great strokemakers, but India do not need as many fail-safe options. While Samson has frustrated many fans with another inconsistent IPL season, his fresh approach to T20 can breathe life into India’s middle order. His range-hitting skills have improved and a T20 is often decided by the side’s ability to clear the ropes. While it has resulted in him getting dismissed early in an innings, time and again Samson has showed he does not need too many deliveries to get going: that quality is not common in this Indian squad.

(Of course, chances are India will go with Iyer or Pandey).

Finishers: Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja have improved significantly as batsmen over the last year or so. Pandya’s T20 batting is a thing of joy and he is perhaps the closest India have to a true T20 batsman in the current squad. Jadeja was arguably CSK’s only positive in the middle order and he showed again in the ODI series how good he can be at the death.

Spinners: India need a sixth bowing option in T20s, there are no two ways about it. And given Jadeja’s batting form, Kohli can afford to pick five other bowlers. Washington Sundar is a solid option in the powerplay on pitches where he can extract bounce with his height and bowl tidily in the powerplay. Yuzvendra Chahal is the obvious choice for the first-choice spinner too, despite being off colour in ODIs.

Pacers: The ideal India XI should feature both Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami but it is better India rotate their main men around during the T20Is, given the options available at Kohli’s disposal. In Natarajan, Kohli has a solid go-to bowler at the death along with one of those two spearheads. Deepak Chahar will be a wicket-taker first up if he can get the new ball to move around and that’s an important quality. India do not have to play both Shami and Bumrah and they should get the most out of Chahar and Natarajan.

The writer’s selection for India’s XI: KL Rahul (wk), Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Sanju Samson, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Washington Sundar, Deepak Chahar, Jasprit Bumrah (or Mohammed Shami), T Natarajan, Yuzvendra Chahal

What will be your XI? Let us know your thoughts.

The first T20I starts on Friday at 1340 IST, to be broadcast on Sony Sports Pictures Network in India.