Players and fans should be excused if they find it difficult to get excited about a five-match T20I series three days after the World Cup final. But such are the vagaries of the international cricket calendar that the two countries that contested the Grand Final of the 50-over format will face off in the shorter format, starting in Vizag on Thursday.
Though there may not be too many of the players who featured in Ahmedabad on Sunday in action in the first T20I, it reminds one of the ODI series England had to stay back in Australia for after winning last year’s T20 World Cup.
With the next marquee world event, in the T20 format, just over six months away in the Caribbean and the United States, there’s not much time to ponder, even though the Indian and Australian players that turned up at venues around the country would have craved some down time to reflect over everything that had taken place, get over the loss, or in the Aussies’ case, celebrate properly.
But the upcoming series is important with the contours of the Indian T20 World Cup line-up yet to take shape. Hardik Pandya, who seems to be the captain-designate for the format, is out injured and apart from Suryakumar Yadav, who will be at the helm, Ishan Kishan and Shreyas Iyer are the only players in the squad who tasted action in the 50-over World Cup, with the latter only available for the last two games of the series.
Surya didn’t set the world on fire in the World Cup but has now returned to his favourite format, in which he’s the No.1-ranked and arguably the most feared batsman in the world.
There’s even more fluidity in the Australian camp. They don’t even have a designated captain for the format. Wicketkeeper-batsman Matthew Wade, who will lead the side in the series, is unsure of his place in the World Cup squad. Pat Cummins has won both the World Test Championship and the 50-over World Cup as skipper, and there will be a temptation to give him the reins of the T20 side as well. He is a calm and impressive individual, but the selectors will have to take a call whether that will be too much on the plate of arguably the most important current player in Australian cricket.
Hence, both sides have several holes to fill, and the series provides an opportunity to those on the fringe to push their case.
Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and KL Rahul haven’t played any T20Is since India’s semifinal thrashing at the hands of England at last year’s World Cup. Shubman Gill and Ravindra Jadeja have been rested, and the same is the case with Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj and Kuldeep Yadav.
Chance to impress
Among those in the squad, Yashasvi Jaiswal made a blockbuster start to his Test career, after being a consistent and prolific scorer in IPL, while Rinku Singh has indicated that he can make the transition from franchise cricket to the international stage. Tilak Varma has shown enviable talent and temperament, and Ruturaj Gaikwad is good enough to be in the reckoning. Wicketkeeper Jitesh Sharma has also got people talking about his finishing skills in the IPL. With many of them being left-handers, it gives selectors options in terms of match-ups, which is a much-talked-about aspect of T20 cricket.
Pandya will return to the line-up after recovering from his ankle injury, and depending on which of the other seniors remain part of the T20 set-up, these players would think that a good run may result in a T20 World Cup spot. Shivam Dube may be used as a seam-bowling all-rounder.
With the cream of India’s seam-bowling crop taking time off, the likes of Prasidh Krishna, Avesh Khan, Arshdeep Singh and Mukesh Kumar will be expected to throw their hats in the ring ahead of the marquee event.
Travis Head, Steve Smith, Glenn Maxwell, Adam Zampa and Josh Inglish were constant through the Australian winning run in the World Cup, but it remains to be seen how many, if any, of them will take the field on Thursday. T20 cricket is not Smith’s strongest format, and he didn’t have a great World Cup with the bat either. But his inclusion in the squad, even while fellow veteran David Warner was subsequently withdrawn, shows that the Test legend remains in the scheme of things ahead of next year’s event. The other four names made vital and match-winning contributions at some point of the recent World Cup.
Marcus Stoinis was not in the playing XI for the semifinal and final, but his power-hitting may come handy in the shorter format.
The pace bowling line-up of Kane Richardson, Sean Abbott, Nathan Ellis and Jason Behrendorff, apart from leg-spinner Tanveer Sangha, may not invoke awe, but know what they have to do in T20 cricket. Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood, as also Mitchell Marsh, were instrumental in Australia winning the T20 World Cup a couple of years ago, and are likely to be selected for the trip to the USA and West Indies, if they make themselves available.
Apart from impressing national selectors, it’s also a chance for the Australian players to catch the eye of franchises ahead of the IPL auction next month. Head, for one, is likely to be a subject of hectic bidding. With many players being released by franchises, a few good performances can turn out to be very lucrative.