After KL Rahul and Kuldeep Yadav were ruled out of the series through injury, we list down the XI the Men in Blue are likely to field in the first match on Thursday.
A number of senior players are missing from the series which has opened doors for a few youngsters in the squad to get some action. Hardik Pandya and Dinesh Karthik are the big returnees, and the options available can give the management a selection dilemma ahead of this year’s T20 World Cup. Here, we have narrowed down the best XI that Rishabh Pant, the stand-in leader, is likely to go with.
The Chennai Super Kings opener was at risk of missing out if Rahul was fit, with India expected to field Ishan Kishan at the top of the order alongside him. Gaikwad’s aesthetic batting makes him someone who is seemingly better suited to ODIs, but his selection over a more aggressive opener in Prithvi Shaw indicates how highly he is rated by the selectors.
Gaikwad ended the 2022 IPL with 368 runs from 14 games with a strike rate of 126.46.
Despite the left-hander striking at only 121.42 in T20Is, Kishan has been heavily backed, especially by full-time skipper Rohit Sharma, who also captains him at the Mumbai Indians. Kishan had a poor IPL, where he struck at 120.11 acroiss 14 games, which fell to 112.56 in the powerplay overs.
The Kolkata Knight Riders skipper has had a fine run in T20Is in the last few months. In 2022, he has made 229 run with just one dismissal at a strike rate of 172.18. He has scored 57, 74 and 73 in his last three innings, remaining unbeaten on all three occasions.
Rishabh Pant (C & WK)
Pant is yet another cricketer who has not been able to translate his IPL success consistently onto the T20I stage. The left-hander has a strike rate of over 146 in T20s but strikes at just 125.78 for India. However, he would be hoping to convert his recent IPL success into national colours. Pant, the skipper of Delhi Capitals, had batted with a strike rate of 151.79 in the 2022 IPL, the best among all ten captains in the competition.
Comeback man Karthik will be turning out in India colours after three years, with his last outing being the 2019 World Cup semi-final against New Zealand. In the interim, Karthik impressed in the commentary box but eased back into his role as a finisher whenever he got an opportunity to play. The Tamil Nadu wicketkeeper was the standout player from this year’s IPL, batting at an average of 55 with a strike rate of 183.33. No player made more runs at a better strike rate than him in the 2022 edition.
The all-rounder’s return to full fitness is welcome news for India. Not only can Hardik strike big in the death overs, but he can also balance out the XI by increasing the bowling depth. Hardik led his IPL team Gujarat Titans to the title this year and was in excellent form in all departments.
There could be a dilemma over the spots of Venkatesh Iyer and Deepak Hooda in the XI, but the latter is expected to edge ahead. Though Venkatesh has been brilliant for India in his limited chances, striking at over 180 in four of his seven T20I innings while finishing the innings, he had a poor 2022 IPL, where he struck at only 107.69 at an average of 16.55. Hooda, on the other hand, was the sixth-highest Indian run-scorer finishing with 451 runs, playing crucial knocks throughout for Lucknow Super Giants. He can also chip in with his off-breaks.
The all-rounder adds batting depth to the side: he averaged 45.50 and struck at 151.67 in the recent IPL. He is also a miserly bowler, and pips ahead of Ravi Bishnoi in the XI due to his all-round skills.
The pacer will be the new-ball bowler for India after a phenomenal performance in the IPL for Sunrisers Hyderabad. He can be equally effective in the death overs, too – Bhuvneshwar bowled a total of 46 dots in the last five over of the innings this year in the competition and can be counted upon to score crucial runs with the bat as well.
Patel has 52 wickets in the last two editions of the IPL, and his overs at the death are often game-changing. The Royal Challengers Bangalore quick bowled a total of 130 dots in the competition, conceding only 7.66 runs an over whilst picking up 19 wickets.
The spinner won the Purple Cap in the 2022 IPL, and his return to form has just been what India. Chahal had averaged 39.75 in T20Is with the ball from the start of 2019 to the end of 2021 but seems to be back to his best, troubling the best of batters in the recent T20 tournament.