If India’s recently concluded five-match T20I series against Australia is to be seen as an audition ahead of next June’s T20 World Cup in the Caribbean and United States, the actors in fray seemingly look the part.
From Ruturaj Gaikwad to Yashasvi Jaiswal to Rinku Singh to Ravi Bishnoi to Mukesh Kumar, all players navigated the hurdle with the kind of creative imagination that is a prerequisite in the game’s shortest format.
If Ruturaj and Jaiswal’s opening salvo of shots set a deafeningly high tone, Rinku’s batting prowess in the middle and end overs, Bishnoi’s stifling spin in the PowerPlay and Mukesh’s exploits at the death gave this Indian side a well-rounded look.
What also stood out was Suryakumar Yadav’s maiden captaincy spell. With Rohit Sharma’s future as a T20 skipper uncertain, and Hardik Pandya still recovering from an ankle injury, Suryakumar appears to have quietly thrown his hat into the ring.
While five matches may be all too small a sample to judge leadership acumen, a positive assessment from a fellow player is not to be discounted.
“Surya has given us a free hand,” said pacer Arshdeep Singh, who defended 10 runs off the last over in Bengaluru on Sunday to hand India a 4-1 victory. “He has given both bowlers and batters the freedom to express their capabilities. Wickets were largely batting-friendly, but he told us [bowlers] that where there are challenges, there are also opportunities.
“He has played a lot of cricket but he didn’t force any plan on us. He backed us 100%. His inputs came only when we had to improve a few things and we were all very receptive to that.”
The lone bit of course-correction India may have to do is to accommodate Axar Patel in the T20 set-up. Dropped for the upcoming three-match T20I series in South Africa for reasons unknown, the left-arm spinner turned in a stupendous performance against the Aussies.
Axar bowled 20 overs in all, picked up six wickets and gave away runs at a miserly Econ. rate of 6.2. There is also a view that the 29-year-old offers more bang for your buck as a T20 batter than Ravindra Jadeja, as he showcased with a crucial 21-ball 31 on a challenging track at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium.
All of which suggests that even though the India-Australia tourney came close on the heels of a draining World Cup schedule, its importance cannot be understated.
As India transitions away from its old guard, the casting directors appear close to identifying a core group. The rehearsals may well begin with coming Sunday’s contest versus South Africa in Durban, the first of six T20Is the Men in Blue will play against the Proteas and Afghanistan in the lead-up to the marquee event next summer.