It’s either Jadeja and Axar both or a long tail for India

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

Kuldeep Yadav scoring some runs off Mitchell Starc en route his 26-ball unbeaten 35 for Delhi Capitals against Kolkata Knight Riders should be good news for India fans. Going into the ICC T20 World Cup, the Men in Blue will welcome runs from their specialist bowlers. That’s because chances are high that after No. 7, this team will not have players who can be relied upon to score brisk runs.

The only way to avoid this is to have all three — Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel in the XI. If one of the last two is benched, which is likely, India’s last four has to be chosen from Jasprit Bumrah, Arshdeep Singh, Mohammed Siraj, Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav. Playing two orthodox left-arm spinners isn’t normal. So, it’s difficult to extend the tail by including both Jadeja and Axar.

Since India prefer six bowling options, there can be only five in the XI who either bat or keep or do both. With Pandya and Jadeja/Axar, you get two more who can be trusted as batters. After them, there is no way this team can accommodate another player to chip in with some runs, unless they decide to field the left-handed all-rounders who are two of a kind.

Of India’s main rivals, Australia have Pat Cummins at No. 8. The England team which won the ICC T20 World Cup in 2022 batted till No. 9. South Africa are looking at Marco Jansen as their No. 8, while New Zealand have multiple options in that position. Pakistan had this cushion last time and even India did. Ravichandran Ashwin hit the winning runs in a thriller against Pakistan two years ago.

It can be argued that No. 8 isn’t that important in T20s. They don’t bat that often. While this is true in the sub-continent and in IPL, pitches in the USA and West Indies may not be out and out belters. Last year, India lost a series 2-3 played in these two places where no team made 200. In the World Cup, teams may lose wickets, leaving tail-enders to face more deliveries than they do in the IPL.

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

No team expects the No. 8 to be a big contributor with the bat and yet, it’s a crucial position. This is where games are often won and lost. It’s stating the obvious that while chasing, the team with a longer tail stands a better chance. The No. 8 in a T20 game doesn’t have to be a power-hitter, but at least someone who can work the ball into gaps for singles and hit the odd one.

A total of 130/4 after 15 overs may look good. There is every chance of getting close to 190 provided wickets are not lost. If this becomes 140/6 after 17, a side with a longer tail can still press for a few more. For India, this is where the tail starts. It can become 180, but chances of 160 all out are equally likely if not more.

This is unusual for an XI with two all-rounders (Pandya and Jadeja/Axar). Such sides usually bat deeper and their batting doesn’t end at No. 7. However, this is a reality for India because none of the bowlers in the likely XI after Jadeja/Axar can be trusted to hit the ball hard or even rotate strike. Had a couple of batters rolled their arms over, a bowler could have been dropped. India can’t do that.

Long stays in the middle during the Test series in England suggested Kuldeep has worked on his batting. He also has a first-class century to his name. But that doesn’t make him a useful T20 hand. Before the KKR game, he batted twice in seven IPL games this season and made zero and one. But there is little else India can do, unless they go unconventional and play Jadeja with Axar.

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