India’s WT20 preparations started on 3rd August, 2019, in Lauderhill against the Windies, and now, 19 matches, 6 series and 185 days later, the team has landed at its first pit stop. The next destination is the IPL, which is a good 2 months away, but where does each and every player stand as of now?
To be fair, it has been a good 6 months for the Men in Blue in the game’s shortest format. It started with the dull, abomination of a series against the Windies where they convincingly completed a 3-0 rout, and despite encountering several hiccups on the way in the extended T20 season at home, they must be pretty happy with where they stand right now. Their avant-garde team selection meant that over the course of the 19 matches, keeping the World T20 in mind, 23 different players were tried out, with just 11 of them featuring in more than 9 games. All the players that were auditioned were given a fair chance to impress the selectors, so now, 8 months ahead of the World T20 in Australia, India’s squad for the tournament slowly but steadily seems to be taking shape.
So with no audition scheduled until the Indian Premier League (IPL) in April, where do the players stand, as of this moment, with respect to sealing their births in the 15-man squad for the showdown in Australia? Well, we, here at SportsCafe, have scrutinized, evaluated and assessed the performances of each and every player and grouped them into three categories - The Green Zone, The Yellow Zone and the Red Zone. The Green Zone refers to the ones who have all but sealed their place in the squad, the Yellow Zone consists of the players who are either back-ups or are right in contention to book their place while the Red Zone consists of the ones who look destined to miss out on the flight to the Oceanic Nation.
The Green Zone
It is silly that I actually have to mention the fact that Kohli is in the green zone, but sometimes we need to state the obvious, don’t we? Even if Kohli scores a duck in all 15 IPL matches he plays this season and backs it up with 5 more ducks in the bilateral games and warm-up matches prior to the WT20, he will be leading the team out in the middle on October 24 against the Proteas in Perth. Yep, his place is that secure.
Just like Virat, Rohit has also already reserved his seat in the plane for Australia. There is one thing, and thing only, that can stop Hitman from opening in the World T20 in October - his own fitness. After an injury scare against Australia in Bengaluru, Rohit ended up severely injuring his calf against New Zealand. You’d think that India would need to keep him wrapped in cotton wool till October. But in this day and age of IPL, that can never happen, can it? Let me put it this way: In terms of his spot, Rohit is in the green zone, but in terms of fitness, he’s in the yellow zone.
Six months ago, KL Rahul would have been in the yellow zone at best. But it’s crazy what can happen in 19 matches, isn’t it? Not only has he propelled himself to the green zone, but, in the process, might have also (involuntarily) pushed a few others into the yellow zone. We’ll get to that later. But for now, Rahul can breathe easy, for he’s bound to be sipping on a few margaritas enjoying the serene view at Bondi Beach come October.
Shikhar Dhawan makes the cut for the green zone but only by the skin of his teeth. And for that, he has nothing but his reputation to thank. Because honestly, that’s what has saved his place. His numbers - one fifty in 10 innings at an average of 27.80 with a strike rate of 118.80 - are not worthy of a place in the green zone and to make things worse, in terms of fitness, he’s effectively in the red zone. But you know how it works, yeah? His record in ICC tournament speaks for itself so don’t be surprised if he edges ahead of Rahul and partners Rohit in the first match against South Africa.
Kohli, Rohit, Rahul and Dhawan can all make their way to the flight well ahead of the others, but should there be just one business class seat available in the plane, no one bar Jasprit Bumrah is taking it. Let’s face it: he is the most important member of this Indian side - even more so than Kohli himself - and there is no way that the team can even dream of lifting the trophy without Bumrah. Again, the only concern for him is his fitness, which is hovering around the yellow zone for a while now.
When the month of August commenced, Iyer was not even in the red zone. But his rise - across formats - has been phenomenal and he finally looks to be India’s solution to the cursed No.4 spot. His fearless demeanor coupled with his skill and aggression is what has seen him soar to the green zone in under half a year, and irrespective of how he fares from now until October, you must imagine that he’s done enough to warrant a place in the flight.
Only Hardik Pandya can play a total of two matches and still be one of the first names in the teamsheet for India in the World T20. I would go as far as saying that he’s the second-most important player to this team behind Bumrah. Both Rishabh Pant and Shivam Dube have tried to emulate the all-rounder and failed miserably, and funnily enough, those two are India’s best bets for a ‘finisher’ outside Pandya. Oh remember, he is also the key for India to unleash the ‘KulCha’ combo. No Pandya = No KulCha = No World Cup. There is one problem, though. His fitness is at the rock-bottom of the red zone.
Jadeja has also had a similar surge to the team like Rahul. Like the Karnataka man, Jadeja, too, was barely in the yellow zone mid-way through 2019 but now? WHOOOSH, he’s sky-rocketted into the green zone. Not only did he sky-rocket into the green zone, but doing so, pushed a couple of players into the yellow zone and one into the red zone (Yes, I’ll get to this later).
It speaks a lot about Navdeep Saini the cricketer that despite featuring in just 10 T20s, he’s virtually booked his place in the WT20 squad as the team’s second go-to pacer after Bumrah. Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t think it’s the pace and bounce that’s his biggest weapon. It’s his cricketing brain which separates him from the rest of the pack. I’d say in that aspect, too, he’s just second to Bumrah. The race for the fast bowling spot was expected to be the toughest one, but Saini’s steamrolled the rest of his compatriots.
He might be out-of-favour from the ODI set-up, but make no mistake, Yuzi Chahal, especially in Australian conditions, will be Kohli’s go-to man in the spin bowling department. He has, unlike his partner in crime Kuldeep, proved that he can be potent and effective even when he’s been used as the lone-spinner in the team, and this versatility of his is what’s earned him a place in the squad. He featured in 11 games in the audition compared to Kuldeep’s 3, so it’s fair to say that he’s KO’d his partner en route to the green zone. And for now Chahal will also be the last person to board the plane. Until the IPL and beyond, no matter what happens, the green zone is shut for good.
The Yellow Zone
I’d like to think that up until the New Zealand series, Pandey was in the red zone. But to go along with his skill, the composure, maturity and understanding of his own role he showed in the series was second to none and that’s what has put him right on the verge of making it to the green zone. However, a solitary fifty isn’t enough, and you’d think that he’d have to have a solid run in the next couple of months - especially in the IPL - to be absolutely sure of his place. Even that might not be enough.
Amongst everyone in the list, there’s no person I feel for, more than Rishabh Pant. The truth is that he’s been unfairly treated. The management themselves kept him in the green zone for a good part of FIVE MONTHS but one look of KL Rahul and BOOM, they kicked Pant right out of the plane. At this point of time, especially with Pandya slated to make a comeback and Rahul donning the gloves, his chances look a bit bleak. However, there are few who possess the hitting ability of him, so that should keep him in the hunt till the end. But saying that, should he have a bad IPL, though, he can kiss goodbye to his spot.
Dube was in no-zone up until September but his bizarre rise to the national team saw him move to the yellow zone in no time. Whilst he did initially impress - with the ball against Bangladesh and with the bat against Windies - you’ve gotta think that he’s been slowly but steadily found out at this level. And if the New Zealand series is anything to go by, I’d like to think that he has completely played himself out of contention. He still finds himself in the yellow zone, though, owing to one thing and one thing only - he is the only Hardik Pandya prototype available in the country as of now.
Mohammad Shami was also one of the bowlers who was hovering in the red zone for a long time, but again, he showed enough in the New Zealand series to warrant a place in the WT20 squad. I mean, if you’re a bowler who’s been slated for being a trashy death bowler, what more can you do than defending 9 off the last over against two well-set batsmen to tie the match for the team? That too on a day when Bumrah has had a stinker? His experience, too, works in his favour. But I’d like to believe that the selectors would like to further test his mettle in the IPL before giving him a ticket to Australia.
No Indian bowler has come under fire as much as Shardul Thakur in the past few months, but boy didn’t he completely plaster the mouth of each and everyone who barked, with his performances in the New Zealand series? He, in fact, outdid Shami, defending just 7 runs in the 4th T20I to choke New Zealand and as if that wasn’t enough, he went and did it again in the final game. That he is also an able hitter also should keep the selectors interested. Him making the WT20 squad is a longshot, but he has given himself every chance of doing so.
Kuldeep Yadav’s career has been on freefall ever since IPL 2019 and sadly, it doesn’t look like it’s stopping anytime soon. Skipper Kohli has made it all but clear that Chahal is the #1 leggie in T20s, and also made it clear that both Sundar and Jadeja are ahead of the chinaman in the pecking order. That he played just 3 of the 19 matches tells a story in itself. He will, however, be in contention, though, purely due to the variety he brings. But you’ve got to think that he’d need a record-breaking IPL to once again throw his name into the hat to be the team’s go-to leggie.
Washington Sundar staggeringly featured in 16 of the 19 T20s India played in the last 6 months, which is the joint-most for any player alongside Shreyas Iyer. It is clear that both Kohli and the management rate him highly and see him as a weapon in the WT20, but one wonders if there’d be space in the flight to fit him in, especially with Jadeja and Chahal already sitting with their legs stretched. He was neither great nor terrible in the games he played, so he continues to stay in the yellow zone. It would be interesting to see how he fares in the IPL, though, with him playing under Kohli. A good season and who knows?
Bhuvneshwar Kumar should ideally have been in the green zone, but him spending more time at the NCA in rehab than with the national team training has meant that he was organically dropped behind the rest of the pack, not owing to his performances. His fitness has been in the red zone for the past six months, and ideally, because of that, he, too, should have been in the same zone, but his quality and experience has earned him a place in the yellow zone. But if he is to make the final cut, though, he would need to stop emulating Jack Wilshere.
I’d imagine that sometime during October, Chahar would have been the sixth or seventh name on the teamsheet. But unfortunately, he is not destiny’s favourite child. He, too, like Bhuvi, has found himself deep in the red zone when it comes to fitness, and I should imagine that him making the final cut is now a really, really long shot. But he still finds a place in the yellow zone, because let’s admit it, he was THAAAAT GOOOD in the limited opportunities he got. And with Chahar, there ends the list of players who find themselves at least inside the airport. It’s now time to look at the players who’ll be watching the World Cup in their television sets.
The Red Zone
For starters, Dhoni didn’t help his own cause by not making himself available to play a single match. But when Pant was failing miserably, you thought that the former skipper would walk right back into the XI the moment he makes himself available. But Rahul has now come into the team and buried Dhoni’s chances of making it to Australia with a golden shovel. Unless Dhoni has an absolutely crazy IPL where he scores over 400 runs at a strike rate of 150-odd, he would have no chance of making it to the flight to Australia.
Of all the people I’ve talked about thus far, if there’s one player who has absolutely blown his chance of making it to the WT20 with his own shambolic performance, it’s probably Sanju Samson. Oh Sanju! After warming the bench for a good 14 games, he was finally given a chance against Sri Lanka. What did he do? Six and out. And then he was given two more chances against New Zealand. What did he do? First, six and out, and then, gone for 2. The only way Samson will make the squad is if he’s impressed the management with his waterboy skills. There’s no way he’s making the cut due to his keeping or batting, that I can assure you.
Remember the player who I said was a victim of Ravindra Jadeja propelling back into the main XI? Yep, it’s Krunal Pandya. His decline has been something else. He did get 7 opportunities to prove his worth, but in those chances, all he could do was prove that he’s a worse batsman than Sundar and a worse bowler than almost-anyone-in-the-squad. He was somewhere in the yellow zone in mid-September, but KABOOOOM, Jadeja has drop-kicked him deep into the red zone. There’s no coming back from this from Krunal. Unless he wins the purple cap in the IPL or something. Yeah, I have a good sense of humour.
Of all the teams he could go under-perform against, Khaleel Ahmed chose Bangladesh. Fans are going to be pissed if you misfire against an Australia or a New Zealand, but Bangladesh? Nahhh, they will not spare you. And that’s what happened to Khaleel, basically. He featured in 5 matches and with every passing match, he deterred his WT20 chances further by spewing absolute garbage to the batsmen. He recently fractured his wrist, too, which, I suppose, is the final nail in the coffin.
If you remember Rahul Chahar, well done. In case you didn’t know, yes, he did play for India this season. But 1-27 in 3 overs on debut in a match where the opposition has scored just 146 isn’t good enough and well, as it turns out, playing for Mumbai Indians isn’t also enough to warrant a place in the side. I doubt if he’d make the squad ahead of Chahal, Kuldeep, Jadeja and Sundar even if he ends the IPL 2020 season as the highest wicket-taker.
Oh, you thought I wouldn’t talk about Shankar? Ah, gotcha. In all fairness, it’s a bit sad to see the monumental decline of Shankar. And to be brutally honest, I do feel that he is light years ahead of Shivam Dube as a cricketer and perhaps deserves to be in the yellow zone. But it is what it is and well, as things stand, for Shankar to stand ANY chance of making it to the WT20 squad, he would probably need to win the Man of the Tournament award in the IPL AND also hope for Pandya to remain unfit.
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