‘Flexible’ India mull Kuldeep option

Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, and Rohit Sharma in net session
Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, and Rohit Sharma in net session (PC: Debasis Sen)

In 2010, a jaded Indian team went to a T20 World Cup in the Caribbean on the heels of an IPL, and they returned tail between their legs, after losing all their Super Eights matches. Fourteen years down the line, there’s another T20 World Cup in the West Indies, and things have changed.

Back then, India’s commercial might in world cricket was established. But on the field, the team was searching for consistency, and they lacked the modern-day swagger. Now, things are better planned, players’ workloads are well managed and India play consistent cricket across formats. So, as Rohit Sharma and his side start their Super Eights campaign at the ongoing T20 World Cup against Afghanistan on Thursday, no one is thinking about an early exit.

Afghanistan’s cricket is on an upward curve. They gave a good account of themselves at last year’s World Cup (50-over format) and they qualified for the Super Eights in this tournament with a group league game to spare. But vis-à-vis India, there still remains a gulf in class. Yes, they have a spinner of Rashid Khan’s calibre in their ranks. Fazalhaq Farooqi, the left-arm seamer, is the highest wicket-taker in this T20 World Cup, with 12 scalps from four innings. Afghanistan also have the left-arm wrist-spin of Noor Ahmad and a few serious hitters in their batting line-up. But overall, India have the class and experience and it would be an upset if they fail to make a winning start to their Super Eights journey. “They (India) are one of the favourites,” Afghanistan head coach Jonathan Trott told reporters on the match eve.

India are coming to the business end of the tournament with a hat-trick of wins in the group phase, overcoming the dodgy New York pitches where batting felt like a lottery. In contrast, the surface at the Kensington Oval that looks brownish in colour, is expected to be batting friendly. It gives Virat Kohli a chance to regain his run-scoring mojo.

Kohli scored just five runs in three matches in the group phase. But the way the pitches played in New York, not much should be read into those numbers. In proper cricket conditions, the team’s best batsman would like to break free. A full house at Kensington Oval would want the Kohli-Rohit opening pair to embrace aggression upfront.

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Both Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma in action in net session
Both Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma in action in net session (PC: Debasis Sen)

Over the last couple of days, Kohli had some intense practice sessions. He took throwdowns for an elongated period. Had lengthy nets sessions against the spinners and focused on playing attacking shots against them. Trott threw down the gauntlet by saying they would like to “exploit Kohli’s off form”, but the former India captain is a man for the big stage and for India to have a successful T20 World Cup, he needs to show the way.

Another player who had extended nets sessions over the last two days was Kuldeep Yadav. India played four seamers in New York, for the conditions demanded that. In Bridgetown, they probably need the guile of the left-arm wrist-spinner. In fact, Kuldeep could be the only change in the playing XI, likely for Mohammed Siraj.

“Yes, wrist-spinners will come into play,” said head coach Rahul Dravid at the pre-match press conference. “If we feel the need of playing an extra spinner in Kuldeep or Yuzi (Yuzvendra Chahal), we will give it a thought.”

The team management is willing to retain four all-rounders for the balance of the side and Hardik Pandya’s bowling form will allow India to play three spinners without losing it. Both Pandya and Shivam Dube bowled a lot at the nets over the last two days. While Dube is still not considered a frontline bowler in matches, Pandya would be the team’s third seamer.

The good thing about the Indian team is that they are not rigid in their game plans. Promoting Rishabh Pant to No. 3 is a case in point. Sending Axar Patel at No. 4 against Pakistan was another example. “I always believe in being flexible in (our) game plan,” said Dravid. “We continuously strive to make these changes. Flexibility will be the key.”

Match details

June 20, Bridgetown, 8 pm IST


India (possible): Rohit Sharma (c), Virat Kohli, Rishabh Pant (wk), Suryakumar Yadav, Shivam Dube, Hardik Pandya, Axar Patel, Ravindra Jadeja, Arshdeep Singh, Jasprit Bumrah, Kuldeep Yadav/Mohammed Siraj.

Afghanistan (possible): Rahmanullah Gurbaz (wk), Ibrahim Zadran, Gulbadeen Naib, Azmatullah Omarzai, Najibullah Zadran, Mohammad Nabi, Karim Janat, Rashid Khan (c), Noor Ahmad, Naveen-ul-Haq, Fazalhaq Farooqi.

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