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As India brace for a tough challenge from West Indies, here are some important threads to follow

This has been a year of preparation for the two T20 World Cups in next two years. But how much has it gone to plan? Perhaps not much, for an almost full-strength Indian squad has been named to now face a strong West Indies challenge.

ET CONTRIBUTORS|
Dec 05, 2019, 11.24 PM IST
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Agencies
Rishabh-Pant
Rishabh Pant during the training session on the eve of the first T20I against West Indies in Hyderabad.
By Chetan Narula
In 2019, world No. 5 India have only won 7 out of 13 T20Is they have played against New Zealand, Australia, West Indies, South Africa and Bangladesh. This has been a year of preparation for the two T20 World Cups in next two years. But how much has it gone to plan? Perhaps not much, for an almost full-strength Indian squad has been named to now face a strong West Indies challenge.

As the India and West Indies begin their three match T20I series in Hyderabad tonight, here are some important threads to follow:

Pant’s lifeline
Shikhar Dhawan’s absence due to injury has done favours for three players. It allows KL Rahul to play, and more importantly, open the innings. It allows Sanju Samson to be part of the squad again, should an immediate requirement arise. And, it allows Rishabh Pant to retain his keeper-batsman slot for yet another T20 series. If Dhawan had been available, he would’ve put the team management in a quandary. Undoubtedly Rahul can no longer be left out of the playing eleven – would that have meant Rahul keeping wickets? Perhaps we will never know, but Pant surely must be breathing a sigh of relief. Meanwhile, Shreyas Iyer and Manish Pandey could be in a tough toss-up for the fifth batsman’s spot.

The Jadeja factor
Between India’s tours of West Indies in 2017 and 2019, Ravindra Jadeja didn’t play a single T20I for India. A lot changed in two years though, and today he is India’s foremost allrounder across three formats. And the clue to his importance can be found from the Test arena, wherein he has batted at No. 6 throughout this home season.

Now, Jadeja makes a comeback to the T20I squad and presumably straight into the playing eleven. It brings a keen balance to the side that is struggling to find an equilibrium between bat and ball. India want to play six bowlers but not less than eight batsmen either — Jadeja helps brid ge a massive gap in that lower middle-order, whether he bats at six or seven. He is an upgrade from Krunal Pandya, and when Hardik returns, can form a vital partnership.

In the current context, batting as high as six, he could be deployed as a finisher, particularly in Hardik’s absence. It will depend on what roles Washington Sundar and Shivam Dube are asked to play. Even so, Jadeja’s handiness with the ball also allows India to pick five other bowlers, a luxury often desired by the Indian team management.

Balance the bowling
Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal are re-united for the first time since the World Cup. But do India need two wrist-spinners in their T20 line-up, especially when it wea-kens the batting line-up? The answer is no, because even with Yadav on the bench, Virat Kohli can field as many as three different spinners in Chahal, Sundar and Jadeja.

Additionally, it would free a spot, whether for that sixth batsman or bowler, depending on the optimal combination.

If Hardik were available, he would take that spot without doubt. In his continued absence, it could go to Dube who can expect to be groomed in the back-up mould should Hardik be unable to go to Australia for whatever reason. The same word — back-up — also applies to Mohammed Shami. He hasn’t played T20Is since 2017 and yet finds himself in reckoning suddenly? No, he is being given a run just in case Bhuvneshwar Kumar or Jasprit Bumrah go missing (owing to injury) with Deepak Chahar a shoe-in for the third pace spot. It remains to be seen if Shami gets a game in this series.

Captain Pollard
For a long time, Kieron Pollard was a pariah for international cricket. Seen regularly at various global T20 leagues, he was a stark reminder of what problems West Indies’ cricket needed to sort before it could begin to rise again.

With his appointment as captain of the ODI and T20I sides earlier in the year, that impasse seems to have ended. Senior players will now be available for international cricket, whilst trying to maintain a balance with T20 league appearances.

Hence, Pollard is no longer an outcast. Instead, he is the skipper who is making the West Indies look comfortable in white-ball cricket again. They already boast a good bowling line-up (borrowing from Test cricket), have a squad replete with big-hitting all-rounders, while top-order batsmen Nicholas Pooran, Shimron Hetmyer, Lendl Simmons and Evin Lewis are aggressive and have experience of Indian conditions.

There is even awe-inducing talent to spare in Sunil Narine and Andre Russell (both injured), Carlos Brathwaite (dropped) and Chris Gayle (is he retired or not?). The threat is very real.

The underlying point herein being the seriousness with which West Indies are looking to rebuild themselves, and with Pollard’s help in limited-overs cricket. It could be a marker in their defence of the 2016 crown, for this is never a side to be taken lightly in T20s.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)
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