The Indian juggernaut in Test cricket continued last week as they demolished England by an innings and 25 runs in the fourth Test in Ahmedabad to seal a spot in the World Test Championship Final, and now they will step into a format in which, of late, they’ve been equally dominant in.
The Men in Blue have not lost a single T20I series - home or away - in two years and have remarkably won 10 of their last 11 games in the shortest format. One would think such ludicrous form would warrant the ‘favorites’ tag, yet the quality, form and the magnitude of their opponents - England; the number one team in the world - means that even winning individual matches - let alone the series - will be a stern task for Virat Kohli & Co. With multiple senior men missing and plenty of fresh faces embedded into the squad, there are lots of uncertainties facing the hosts so we, here at SportsCafe, look at who and what the spotlight will be on in a series that promises to be the biggest test for team India yet in a World T20 year.
Does Suryakumar Yadav have the bottle to succeed in international cricket?
For years Suryakumar Yadav has been the best uncapped T20 batsman in the world, but, finally, that will change in the forthcoming T20Is versus England where is invariably bound to get a game or two, particularly with the #4 spot still up for grabs. The world knows of Suryakumar’s talent and stroke-making ability, but the question is - does he have the bottle and mental strength to replicate the success he’s had in IPL and domestic circuit in international cricket? From Rishabh Pant to Krunal Pandya to Sanju Samson, a plethora of IPL heroes, in the past, have failed to make the step up successfully and history has taught us that succeeding at the highest level is as much about a clear head, unwavering self-belief and mental fortitude as it is about talent and ability. Suryakumar has, thus far, graduated every level with distinction, but international cricket is a whole different beast. We all know he can, but will he? Time will only tell.
How much do India value Axar Patel the T20 cricketer?
Axar Patel becoming a Test cricketer was an accident but, as it turned out, it was the best accident of all time: he ended up having the most dominant debut series by any cricketer this century. But it is worth remembering that T20 cricket has always been Axar’s forte. He was integral to the Capital’s fairytale run in IPL 2020 - where he bowled important overs and kept batsmen in check by conceding his runs at just 6.41 - and, in many ways, was hard done by when he was omitted for the Australia T20Is. But now that he’s back in the reckoning, how much do the Indian management value him? That Chahal and Jadeja are the first-choice spinners seem abundantly clear by now, but there are still at least three others competing for the third spinner’s slot in the squad. Sundar seems to be the front-runner, with both Kuldeep and Varun Chakravarthy a fair distance behind, but this series could throw in a fourth name in the form of Axar. The left-armer’s control and batting ability, in particular, could end up giving him an edge over both Kuldeep and Chakravarthy, but this series, one imagines, would give away whether team India see the Gujarat all-rounder as a real contender for the WT20, or are just grooming him to be an able backup to cover-up for the worst-case scenario.
Can Rishabh Pant finally translate his confidence into limited-overs success?
Rishabh Pant is, arguably, batting as well as he ever has and is in the midst of a purple patch where he seemingly can do no wrong. The million-dollar question now is - can and will he finally translate this confidence into limited-overs success? Two years ago, in 2019, Pant entered India’s home limited-overs stretch in prodigious Test and IPL form, yet ended up having a miserable, reputation-hurting stretch of games in coloured clothing, where he looked like a shadow of his own self with the bat and an utter mess with the gloves. So scathing were those games that it took Pant a whole year to rebuild his confidence, and it is really only now that he is once again looking unshackled. So, can and will he finally use this purple patch to his advantage and announce himself in limited-overs cricket? The youngster has a rather hideous T20I record after 28 games, so with the World T20 nearing, one feels that Pant desperately needs to give the management reasons to believe that he could be the difference-maker.
If Pant plays, who takes the gloves?
This will be another interesting sub-plot in the series. For the past 12 months, skipper Virat Kohli has made it clear that KL Rahul, due to the balance he brings to the side, is the team’s #1 gloveman. But now that Pant is back in the squad - and is expected to play at least a couple of games - would India mull giving back the gloves to the 23-year-old? What they choose to do could very well be a tell-tale sign. Pant getting back the gloves could be an indication that he could get a long run in the side, while Rahul continuing to keep might mean that, for now, the management does not see the southpaw as a first XI regular. Or perhaps getting KL Rahul at the top of the order might just solve it? Or at least that's where Rahul is going to be batting now.