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T20 World Cup 2021

From comeback man Ashwin to mentor Dhoni – Five takeaways from India’s T20 World Cup squad announcement

India T20 World Cup
Aadya Sharma by Aadya Sharma
@Aadya_Wisden 4 minute read

Cutting through plenty of conjecture, debate and dilemma around the final squad, India announced an extended 18-member squad (including three standbys) for the 2021 T20 World Cup. As always, there was plenty to take away from the announcement.

The start of the press conference was delayed by a few minutes, increasing the anticipation around an announcement that thousands had gathered on social media to follow and dissect. When the squad was finally announced, there was plenty to discuss, debate over, and even be a tad surprised by.

Here are five major takeaways from the announcement:

# A vintage look to the three-man pace attack

For the first T20 World Cup in five years, India went back to their trusted trio of Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami for the main squad. No one from the newer generation of quicks – Mohammed Siraj, T Natarajan, Navdeep Saini and Chetan Sakariya – made the cut, although Shardul Thakur and Deepak Chahar managed to sneak into the reserves list. After a gruelling summer in England, and the IPL that is to follow, it’ll be interesting to see how well Bumrah and Shami hold by the time the marquee tournament arrives. Their workload is also dependent on the exact role of Hardik Pandya, who has bowled just 25 T20I overs in the last two years due to injury and still carries doubts around his capacity as an out-and-out seam-bowling all-rounder.

# R Ashwin is back

Arguably the biggest surprise in the announced unit is the return of R Ashwin, a 34-year-old who hasn’t played white-ball cricket for India in four years. There’s no denying the off-spinner’s stellar short-format abilities though – he averaged below 25 with the ball in both IPL 2019 and 2020, picking up 28 wickets combined, but more importantly, boasts of an impressive T20 economy of 6.94.

With Washington Sundar unavailable, R Ashwin is a logical call to assume a similar role in the powerplay (or right after). The last edition was so far back that it is easy to forget that R Ashwin is India’s leading wicket-taker in T20 World Cups, having snared 20 wickets @ 16.70. “For me, it’s [selection] very realistic…not a dream,” Ashwin had said in February. He is clearly ready.

Was the Test team actually saving Ashwin for the T20 World Cup all this while? Who knows.

# No Dhawan, but enough options at the top

Shikhar Dhawan, India’s third-highest run-getter in T20I cricket, captained the side on the short tour to Sri Lanka in July, but couldn’t squeeze into the final squad for what would have been his third T20 World Cup. Given his form in the last 12 months of IPL (two centuries, seven fifties), the management would have been tempted to give him a go, but the plethora of options at the top made it difficult to give him a spot.

Even without him (or his Delhi Capitals partner Prithvi Shaw), India have enough firepower at the top, with Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul, the incumbent Test opening pair, likely to continue in coloured clothing. Apart from them, Ishan Kishan can also take up the opener’s role if needed, with Virat Kohli another option at the top if the need arises.

# No place for Kuldeep-Chahal in spin-heavy unit

Until the 2019 World Cup, Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal were one of the first names on any Indian white-ball bowling unit, operating beautifully in tandem to control the game in the middle overs. Since then, their form collectively plummeted, with India looking elsewhere to fulfil their spin-bowling requirements. Rahul Chahar is an IPL star already, and Varun Chakravarthy lends an element of intrigue to the attack, with Axar Patel, the hero of the home Tests against England, continuing his fairytale comeback in the Indian set-up. With Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin uniting in the blue kit for the first time since 2017, it’s evident that India are trusting the UAE surfaces to be slow and low.

# Dhoni returns, but as a mentor

India is not ready to do global events without MS Dhoni, who surprisingly returns to the fold as a mentor, a development that caught the Indian cricketing community unawares. It’s difficult to make sense of what exactly the role means, but Dhoni’s presence is surely going to bolster the morale of the unit while being an obvious source of wealthy knowledge for the players to tap into. The T20 World Cup marks the end of Ravi Shastri’s tenure as coach… is this Dhoni’s advent into full-time duties? BCCI secretary Jay Shah was clear that it’s only for this tournament, but that wouldn’t stop people from wishful thinking.

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