With less than two weeks left for the Border Gavaskar Trophy matches against Australia that will determine India’s World Test Championship Final fate, a T20 series in the midst of a packed ODI calendar ahead of the 50-over World Cup may seem purposeless.
As a result, Hardik Pandya, who led a 2-1 series win over Sri Lanka earlier this month, is back leading the T20 side with some regulars and fringe players in the squad.
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While skipper Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, KL Rahul, Mohammed Siraj and Mohammed Shami are being rested, the likes of Shubman Gill, Suryakumar Yadav, Ishan Kishan and Kuldeep Yadav will get an extended run before they assemble for Test series camp at Nagpur from February 2.
There is also the welcome addition of attacking Mumbai opener Prithvi Shaw, who returns to the team on the back of a series of superlative performances in the domestic cricket including a record-breaking 379 against Assam in the Ranji Trophy.
It’s been over a year since the 23-year-old last played for India in July 2021 — and it remains to be seen if Pandya is tempted to fiddle his set opening combination of Gill and wicketkeeper batter Ishan Kishan.
Gill has been in the form of his life, especially in the ODIs where he has scored his career-best 208 to go alongside two centuries in last four innings.
When it comes to the T20 format, the elegant Punjab batter may look a bit iffy but he has showed that he has all the shots in his armoury to cement the opening slot.
In such a scenario, it remains to be see how Pandya slots in the spirited Shaw as he may have to wait for his chance.
Suryakumar also had a quiet ODI series against New Zealand but when it comes to T20 format the 360-degree batter becomes a dangerous entity as he would look relish the challenge and come back into groove ahead of the Test series.
While the batting looks sorted, it’s the bowling department that may demand some attention.
Left-arm pacer Arshdeep Singh, who returned from injury, was in the eye of storm in the series against Sri Lanka. He leaked 37 runs in two overs as India lost the T20I in Pune, their only reverse in the 2-1 series win. He would look to come up with a tidy show.
But there was also a bright spot in the bowling department with Shivam Mavi capping an impressive debut with 4/22.
Mavi bowled with pace and the way he cleaned up Pathum Nissanka is still fresh in the mind. The speedster would look to form a potent combination with Umran Malik.
In the last ODI, India had got a chance to witness ‘Kul-Cha’ in action after a long time but come the T20s, India may have to fret over the inclusion of either Kuldeep Yadav or Yuzvendra Chahal.
Chahal has been the preferred option in the format and in the absence of Axar Patel it remains to be seen if the leg-spinner is persisted.
India have been at their marauding best in the ODIs they would expect some fightback by the Kiwis team led by Mitchell Santner in the T20 leg.
Left-hander Devon Conway showed his imperious form for the Black Caps scoring 138 from 100 balls as they gave India a run for their money in their defence of 386 in Indore.
Michael Bracewell too was at his consistent best with 188 runs from three matches as they would look to carry their momentum in the T20 leg.
India: Hardik Pandya (Captain), Suryakumar Yadav (vice-captain), Ishan Kishan (wk), Shubman Gill, Prithvi Shaw, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Deepak Hooda, Rahul Tripathi, Jitesh Sharma (wk), Washington Sundar, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Arshdeep Singh, Umran Malik, Shivam Mavi and Mukesh Kumar
New Zealand: Mitchell Santner (Captain), Finn Allen, Michael Bracewell, Mark Chapman, Devon Conway (wk), Dane Cleaver (wk), Jacob Duffy, Lockie Ferguson, Benjamin Lister, Daryl Mitchell, Glenn Phillips (wk), Michael Rippon, Henry Shipley, Ish Sodhi and Blair Tickner