As India’s Test team gears up for the fifth rescheduled Test against England, an entirely different squad will play a two-match T20I series against Ireland.
With those in the Test squad absent, the tour presents a great opportunity for youngsters to make a mark in foreign conditions. Hardik Pandya, the captain of the 2022 IPL winners, Gujarat Titans, will lead India for the first time as Rishabh Pant, the stand-in skipper for the recent home T20I series against South Africa is with the Test side. Rahul Tripathi has been given a maiden call-up, while Sanju Samson’s comeback is another notable name in the group.
India’s squad for the T20I series: Hardik Pandya (Captain), Bhuvneshwar Kumar (vice-captain), Ishan Kishan, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Sanju Samson, Suryakumar Yadav, Venkatesh Iyer, Deepak Hooda, Rahul Tripathi, Dinesh Karthik (wicketkeeper), Yuzvendra Chahal, Axar Patel, Ravi Bishnoi, Harshal Patel, Avesh Khan, Arshdeep Singh, Umran Malik
Should Ruturaj Gaikwad hold on to his spot in the XI?
Ruturaj Gaikwad is one of the most promising youngsters in the Indian circuit, but so far his returns in national colours leave much to be desired. The Chennai Super Kings opener has a batting strike rate of 123.85 after eight T20Is, which drops to 121.97 in the powerplay overs. He has batted with a strike-rate of less than 120 in five of his eight innings for India, and his slow starts could mean the middle order is left playing catch up.
If Gaikwad does not make the XI, India would have the option of opening with Ishan Kishan and either Sanju Samson or Rahul Tripathi, but the duo have earned a call-up to the side based on their IPL showings in the middle order.
What role will Hardik Pandya adopt?
Hardik has been identified as a finisher for the India team, but he played the role of an anchor in the middle order for Gujarat Titans in the recent IPL. The champions did not have a star-powered top order, but the consistent efforts of Hardik, who made 487 runs at an average of 44.27 in the competition, provided an ideal foundation for the batters to follow. He ended the 2022 IPL with a strike rate of 131.27, far below his career strike-rate of 147.59.
Against South Africa, he was back as a finisher and ended with a strike rate of more than 145 in three of his four innings. He appears able to effortlessly change his batting style according to his responsibilities, and whether he tries to bat more conservatively and hold one end up as captain or be a fearless pinch-hitter in the death remains to be seen. India, though, would benefit from the latter as it would give Hardik more game time as a finisher, a role India will surely want him to play in the T20 World Cup.
Who will be the wicketkeeper?
Kishan and Dinesh Karthik are certain starters in the XI, while Samson would fancy a spot in the team as well for the first T20I. All three batters can not only take the game away from the opposition on their day but are also specialist keepers, who donned the gloves for their respective IPL teams this year. The competition between the three increases if we take into account Rishabh Pant’s performances in the shortest format.
The No.1 keeper for India across formats currently, Pant averages just over 23 with a strike rate of 123.91 in T20Is. He batted with a strike rate of less than 75 in three innings in the recent T20I series against South Africa, which has only increased the scrutiny over his spot for the T20 World Cup. With Pant not in the squad for the tour of Ireland, it remains to be seen who is India’s preferred pick as the wicketkeeper, and whether Kishan, Samson and Karthik are able to grab their chances with the bat to possibly edge ahead of Pant in the XI.
Will there be a place for Yuzvendra Chahal?
The winner of the Purple Cap in the 2022 IPL, Yuzvendra Chahal was expensive in the first two T20Is against South Africa, conceding 26 overs in 2.1 overs in Delhi, and then going at 12.25 in the next match in Cuttack. It took his T20I bowling average to 34.20 and his economy rate to 8.30 since the start of 2021, highlighting once again his struggles on good batting pitches.
Though Chahal bounced back in the last two T20Is, picking up five wickets, they were on relatively tackier wickets. The Irish conditions will not give him much assistance, which puts his position in the team in danger.
Will Umran Malik finally get a go?
Umran Malik, who clocked 157kph in this year’s IPL, has been backed by experts and pundits for a spot in the XI. He was selected for the series against South Africa but warmed the benches in all five games. The three quicks who were selected for India, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Avesh Khan and Harshal Patel, grabbed 17 wickets between them, and India might give the trio more game time as they look to narrow down the squad for the T20 World Cup.
However, they might also be tempted to try out Umran, who troubled the best batters in the IPL. He could be a surprise factor on the pacey wickets in Australia, the venue for the T20 World Cup, and testing him before pushing him in deeper waters could be an option worth exploring.