India look in fine fettle heading into the T20 World Cup in Australia. However, they still need to figure out who their fourth pacer will be, writes Shashwat Kumar.
The 2021 T20 World Cup saw India back a quartet of fast bowlers, of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Shardul Thakur. A lot has changed in Indian cricket since then, with Rohit Sharma taking over and a string of pacers coming through the ranks.
Bhuvneshwar is expected to be on the flight to Australia. Bumrah is also a certainty, provided he attains full fitness. Hardik Pandya doubling up as a genuine all-rounder has also bolstered India’s stocks, meaning that only the identity of the fourth pacer remains up in the air.
Here is a look at the options India can look at, and some left-field choices that could yet don the India blue come the T20 World Cup.
Arshdeep Singh and Avesh Khan have been regulars in the Indian T20I setup in the past couple of months. While Avesh made his debut earlier in the year, Arshdeep has not looked back since making his international bow against England in July.
They bring slightly different skill-sets to the fore. Arshdeep is brilliant at the death, while the left-arm angle adds a different dimension to the bowling attack. His ability to nail yorkers is perhaps only bettered by Bumrah in the Indian team.
Avesh, meanwhile, has a tendency to leak runs at the death. However, he is an excellent new-ball bowler, and his hard length can be tough to get away on Australian pitches.
Both Avesh and Arshdeep have had experience at the international stage, and the Asia Cup in the UAE will provide greater clarity on who could be up for this gig.
The bowlers who can bat
It might seem paradoxical that bowlers are being selected for their ability to bat. But in T20I cricket, the more roles you perform, the more indispensable you can become. Deepak Chahar, Harshal Patel and Thakur qualify under these parameters.
Out of action since before IPL 2022. Chahar has only returned to full training. However, he is expected to feature in the ODI series in Zimbabwe from August 18, and has been penciled down as a stand-by for the Asia Cup, indicating that India might be waiting to get him back into the fold at the earliest.
Harshal has played more often for India. Capable of bowling at the death and capable of unfurling slower deliveries at different paces, he has the propensity to pick wickets. However, he has gone for0 over 10 an over during the death overs in T20 cricket this year. Throughout his T20I career, that number zings up to 11. He may not get as much purchase on relatively flat Australian tracks as well. With injuries being a persistent companion, India may have a tough call to make.
Thakur has fallen away in recent times. He still pops up to pick up crucial wickets but does not have the aura from a few months ago. His batting is a bonus but if India are willing to overlook his run-conceding tendencies. However, he has not been part of India’s recent T20I sides, which hints he is not quite in the scheme of things currently.
One of the aforementioned troika could find themselves touring Australia. However, if India stick with R Ashwin, who also gives them added batting security, all three may miss out.
The dark horses
Including Shami as a wildcard would have felt odd till about a year ago. He was brilliant even in the recent ODIs in England. However, there have been reports around him not being considered for the shortest format to handle his workload management. Shami’s inclusion will not be a bad move. Not many can extract as much movement with the new ball; and while he may not be as dexterous at the death as he used to be, his experience can make up for it.
Mohammed Siraj, another exceptional red-ball bowler, has not played much T20I cricket lately. He last appeared against Sri Lanka this February. Prasidh Krishna, meanwhile, has not played represented India in the shortest format altogether. Neither had stupendous IPL campaigns either, and are prone to being very expensive every once in a while. However, if injuries force India’s hand, they will at least have two bowlers with international experience ready to step in.