Heart says India, head says another blowout

Team India and ICC T20 World Cup 2024 (Image: BCCI/ICC)

Every evening, when I watch the IPL with one eye on the T20 World Cup, now just two weeks away, I have this dilemma. The IPL on its own is great. But the moment it is about the Indians in the IPL, and especially those picked for the T20 World Cup, there is a sudden sense of panic. In fact, in my imaginary IPL XI, no more than two Indians get a place. And that’s what tells me that India’s chances in the T20 World Cup are bleak. 

Before I get to my IPL XI, let me say that I am deeply unhappy when having to say that India aren’t the favourites going into the World Cup. Let me also say that I would be the happiest if I am proved wrong. As an Indian cricket analyst and fan, each one of us wants Rohit Sharma’s team to win. Want to see him lift the World Cup and celebrate in Barbados. But then, while the heart wants all of this, the mind says India’s chances are slim, and the team isn’t looking the most formidable going into the tournament. 

Coming back to my IPL XI, I would open with Travis Head and Sunil Narine. While Head can win a game on his own, Narine is one of the best IPL players of all time, who has seen an unexpected resurgence as a batter this year. Both can score at a rapid clip in the Powerplay and set a game up. And Narine with the ball has also been exceptional.

At No. 3 would be Virat Kohli, easily the best Indian batter on view in the tournament. He has batted with flair and skill, and has upped his strike-rate in the second half of the competition as well. His intensity on the field is just fantastic, and he will also save a few runs in every game. At No. 4, I would go with Heinrich Klaasen. He has this ability to hit a 15-ball 50 and, with a few overs left, can just torment the opposition. A safe wicketkeeper, Klaasen is at his best at the moment.

My No. 5 has to be David Miller. Yet again a standout performer for Gujarat, Miller has been the franchise’s Mr Consistent. His ability to soak in pressure and deliver in tough situations has time and again rescued his team. And his fielding is just that added bonus a team needs from a top man.

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Jasprit Bumrah, Rohit Sharma and others for MI
Jasprit Bumrah, Rohit Sharma and others for MI (PC: MI/X)

At No.6 has to be Andre Russell. Fitness-wise, he has looked way better than a year ago, and is consistently picking up wickets this season. And when tasked with hitting sixes at the death, few can match Dre Russ. 

For an all-round option at No. 7, Sam Curran would be a handy pick. While he hasn’t had the best tournament by his own standards, he can still win games with both bat and ball and is one to bank on. With support around, Curran would be a game-changer for sure. 

Coming to the bowlers, Rashid Khan makes it despite not having had the best season. It is because he is Rashid, someone who can also make a difference with the bat as he has done for Gujarat this season. Among the bowlers, I would go with Trent Boult who always is handy at the start of an innings. The legendary Jasprit Bumrah walks into any team, and mine is no exception. The final two spots have many contenders lining up, but none of them are Indians. And that’s the real point. 

In my IPL team, I couldn’t include anyone except Kohli and Bumrah. Not a single other member of the Indian World Cup squad makes it. Maybe Sanju Samson is the other name that comes to mind, but with Klaasen around, I had to overlook him. In such a situation, how does one punt on India in the World Cup? How does one say that come the World Cup, Rohit, Hardik Pandya, Mohammed Siraj and the rest will all be back in form? On what basis can we be hopeful that India will redeem itself and avenge the 2022 T20 defeat or the 2023 World Cup final heartbreak? 

Maybe that’s why the heart and mind aren’t really in agreement. The heart will always say India and bleed blue. But the mind is just not in sync. It says if India go beyond the semi-finals, it will be an effort beyond expectations. Perhaps for the first time in years, Indian fans aren’t really expecting much from the team. Maybe this is why we have a chance. The underdog is always the story, and fingers crossed, it holds true for India. But a deep dive just 10 days before the tournament begins doesn’t really give India a chance, and that’s the reality.

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