IPL doubles up as selection trial for India’s T20 World Cup aspirants

IPL 2024 Captains. Source: IPL

Other than accolades and endorsements, cricketers playing IPL 2024 can also look forward to a trip to the USA and the exotic Caribbean islands. Unlike most previous editions, this year’s competition is a direct selection trial for the T20 World Cup, which starts less than 10 days after the IPL final.

Before and after the 50-over World Cup, India seemed intent on new faces in T20Is. Hardik Pandya was made the captain. Seniors were either rested or out injured. The likes of Rinku Singh, Tilak Varma, Shivam Dube, Jitesh Sharma and Mukesh Kumar were rewarded for IPL performances.

Following the return of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, the situation has changed. And, so might the approach. Jay Shah, the BCCI secretary, has said that Rohit will lead India in the T20 World Cup. Other than that, only a few places are certain at the moment. There are slots up for grabs and that’s why IPL performance will be a determining factor.

Return of seniors makes equation complex

Batting: There were whispers last year that the seniors wouldn’t be part of the T20I set-up. Then, Rohit and Kohli returned for India’s last bilateral T20I engagement — against Afghanistan at home in January — when Pandya was injured. Unless they have a dismal IPL, all three are likely to feature in the squad.

Yashasvi Jaiswal and Shubman Gill should also make the cut. Not much has to be said of the former, while Gill’s white-ball record is extraordinary. Having both in the XI with Rohit and Kohli is a problem, but the management will probably cross the bridge when they get there in this regard.

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Shubman Gill and Ruturaj Gaikwad. Source: IPL

Rishabh Pant, Rinku, KL Rahul, Suryakumar Yadav, Tilak and Dube are the contenders for the three remaining slots for specialist batters/wicketkeepers. India are likely to have eight of them in the XV. There are several ‘ifs’ concerning these calls.

If Pant keeps, the selectors will take one more as back-up. If he plays as a batter, India will have to look for two keepers. Rahul, Sanju Samson, Jitesh and Dhruv Jurel become the options in the second scenario. If everybody is fit and firing, Pant and Rahul are the frontrunners as the first two choices. This makes the middle-order composition dependent on Pant’s progress in the IPL.

With a fully functional Pant, it becomes a toss-up between Surya and Rinku. The former is recovering from injury and his match fitness will be watched. Rinku has delivered in the past, but not as a star. He has to deal with the pressure of expectations. Both can make the squad only if another batter is not considered, or the selectors go with six bowlers plus Pandya.

How many pacers and who apart from Bumrah?

Bowling: The first name on this list will be Jasprit Bumrah. There are no worries at the moment, but this hectic and taxing event has taken its toll on his body in the past. If he is fine, who else is the question to be answered in the IPL.

Arshdeep Singh has been groomed as a T20 specialist and he has played 44 matches in the last two years. The ability to handle power play and death overs is his strength, along with the yorkers. He also brings in variation as a left-arm quick.

It’s not clear if the squad will have four specialist fast bowlers or three plus Pandya. It’s a wide open field. Mohammed Siraj is a regular in other formats, but has been fielded in just 10 T20Is after making his debut in November 2017. He will be watched, along with a pool of bowlers including some lesser-known and unknown ones.

In spin, it’s comparatively simpler. The question is, whether there will be three or four. Ravindra Jadeja selects himself. Kuldeep Yadav, Ravi Bishnoi and Washington Sundar — not necessarily in that order — are the other favourites. Chances of all getting in can’t be ruled out. Axar Patel has to be left out for this to happen.

All this, in case of many players, will depend to a large extent on how the IPL goes. As of now, not more than 7-8 slots are confirmed. Almost half the squad will be picked based on IPL performances. That will be an attraction this tournament has never really offered.

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