Are India going to T20 World Cup with one spinner too many?

Kuldeep Yadav, Rohit Sharma, and Yuzvendra Chahal
Kuldeep Yadav, Rohit Sharma, and Yuzvendra Chahal (PC: X)

The assumption is that the pitches in the Caribbean for the T20 World Cup would be slow-turners. The 15-member Indian squad for the ICC event in June has an overload of spinners, because captain Rohit Sharma wanted it that way. “I definitely wanted four spinners,” Rohit said at the post-selection press conference in Mumbai on Thursday.

Scoring pattern in last year’s Caribbean Premier League suggests that the India captain has a point. In 2023, the tournament had only eight 200-plus scores in 34 matches. In the final, Trinbago Knight Riders were bundled out for 94 in 18.1 overs. Forty-five-year-old leg-spinner Imran Tahir was the second-highest wicket-taker in the tournament with 18 at an economy rate of 6.22. So, on the face of it, India going to the T20 World Cup with four spinners looks logical.

Rohit, also, spoke about his experience of playing bilateral series in the West Indies and knowing the conditions. “We played a lot of cricket there (in the Caribbean). We know what the conditions are like. Matches start at 10 o’clock in the morning, probably 10-10.30. So, there’s a little bit of technical aspect involved in this,” he said.

It is clear that the Indian think-tank has been guessing conditions based on bilateral matches in the Caribbean. But there’s a catch. Pitches for the T20 World Cup will be prepared under the supervision of the ICC and the global body will not want the tournament to have a host of low-scoring games.

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Axar Patel and Ravindra Jadeja in IPL
Axar Patel and Ravindra Jadeja in IPL (PC: IPL/X)

The United States is also the co-host of the tournament and the ICC will aim to woo a completely new set of audience with an overdose of entertainment. Sixes and fours provide most of that in the shortest format and although it is difficult to make a radical overhaul as far as the pitches are concerned, efforts will be put in to make surfaces more or less batting-friendly.

Rohit didn’t reveal the exact reason as regards to why he wanted four spinners. “I don’t want to go too much into details, because I’m sure opposition captains will be listening to this. I will give you a very short answer,” he said, adding: “Maybe, in the first press conference that I do in the West Indies, I will give more details on this; the reason for (picking) four spinners, which I’m not going to say in public now. But I wanted four spinners for sure and three seamers, and Hardik being the fourth (seamer).”

India’s spin-pack has two all-rounders in Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel, and two specialists in Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal. Going by recent trends, the ICC usually focuses on preparing batting-friendly surfaces for global events. From that perspective, guessing the conditions based on bilateral series could be fraught with risk. In hindsight, it might well be a case of having one spinner too many.

Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal
Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal (PC: BCCI/X)

Also, with four spinners in the squad, it would be interesting to see India’s playing XI. If the team management picks three spinners, with Axar at No. 8, then Chahal might have to sit out the entire tournament, a la the T20 World Cup in Australia two years ago.

Rohit, however, saw the positive side of having an overload of options. “Obviously, with two spinners being all-rounders, Axar and Jaddu (Jadeja), and then the two attacking spinners, Kuldeep and Chahal, that gives you a little bit of balance in your spin department,” he said.

The Indian team is old wine in an old bottle. As many as eight players from the 2022 squad have made the cut this time. Overhaul became the buzzword after India were hammered by England in Adelaide on a November evening two years ago. The selectors flirted with the idea for a year or so before binning it. Rinku Singh became the biggest casualty, as Ajit Agarkar & Co. chose to play safe and picked a conventional squad for this edition. With an extra spinner selected, the team missed out on a designated finisher groomed for the role over the last one year.

Rinku has a T20I average of 89 and a strike-rate of 176.23 in 15 matches. At the presser, Agarkar called his omission “unfortunate”. India would hope they don’t regret the southpaw’s absence at the T20 World Cup.

Also Read: Those two spinning pals of mine, C Varun and S Narine