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HALFWAY THROUGH IPL ARE INDIA’S T20 WORLD CUP SLOTS FILLED?

With IPL 2024 reaching its halfway mark, cricket enthusiasts are buzzing with a keen sense of anticipation for the T20 World Cup which is now barely a month away. As the IPL progresses, the spotlight has inevitably shifted towards the formation of Team India’s squad for the upcoming World Cup. The proximity of the T20 World Cup, beginning just a week after the IPL final, adds a layer of urgency to the selection process. With India’s first match scheduled against Ireland on June 5th, pressure is intensifying for the selectors to assemble a formidable squad capable of bringing home the coveted title.

One of the primary concerns dominating the minds of selectors and fans alike is the finalization of key positions within the squad. While everyone appreciates the great depth of talent in Indian cricket, evident in the ongoing IPL, it also creates confusion on whom to select for the national team which leads to a pertinent question - have all the slots for the World Cup squad been clinched or is there a reason to worry for Team India?

At the moment it seems the openers’ slots are almost fixed with Rohit Sharma, Yashasvi Jaiswal and Shubhman Gill ready for the roles. But a section of cricket experts feel that Virat Kohli might just be a great opening partner to Rohit since he is already opening the batting for his franchise for a long time. This will also help India to slot in power hitters and finishers in their line up as the pitches in USA and the Caribbean are expected to be on the slower side. Both Rohit and Kohli have been in terrific form, with Kohli leading the run scorers list in the IPL and Rohit at number 3 after the first seven matches.

The next spot in the batting order is occupied firmly by Suryakumar Yadav. He was out in the first few matches due to an injury but since his comeback, Surya has hit 2 fifties in just 4 innings, making a strong impact for his IPL franchise, Mumbai Indians. Moreover, Surya has been the most consistent batsman in the shortest format for India which has put him at the top of the ICC T20 rankings.

The conundrum with the selection starts thereafter as the next 4 -5 spots are up for grabs but the competition is strong. Thanks to the consistent performances of established players in the IPL, the middle-order remains a point of contention. Hardik Pandya, Rishabh Pant, KL Rahul, Sanju Samson, Ravindra Jadeja, Shivam Dube and Rinku Singh are competing for those slots. They will make the middle order and the lower middle order for India.

Unfortunately, Hardik has not been in the best of bowling form since his comeback from injury but he remains a vital member of the squad. Even Jadeja is delivering mixed performances in the season so far and hasn’t been at his best which has left selectors grappling with tough decisions.

There’s also a problem of plenty with the wicket keeping options. Apart from the comeback man Rishabh Pant, Sanju Samson and Rahul, Ishan Kishan is back in contention due to his recent aggressive performances. But he will have to do something extraordinary to force himself in the team since his departure from the South Africa Test series midway citing “personal reasons” has not won him too many friends in the BCCI or in the team management.

Moreover, the search for reliable finishers continues. So far, players like Shivam Dube, Rinku Singh and Rahul Tewatia have performed brilliantly in the IPL. But Dube and Tewatia in particular have been given limited opportunities to showcase their abilities with the ball. Some selectors have hinted that the team will not be tinkered with from the previous international series that India played. This gives an edge to Rinku Singh since he was exceptional in India’s series victory against Afghanistan earlier this year!

The bowling department is mostly sorted for now. With Jasprit Bumrah hitting top form, he will lead the pacers pack of Siraj, Arshdeep and Avesh Khan. The only position up for grabs would be the third spinner’s spot alongside Kuldeep Yadav and Jadeja. Currently, it’s a race between Yuzvendra Chahal, Ravi Bishnoi and Axar Patel. There is an added advantage with Axar’s batting abilities which might put him ahead for selection.

As the T20 World Cup draws nearer, it becomes imperative for Team India to finalize its squad and commence preparations in earnest. With just a few weeks left before the marquee event, India must navigate through the complexities of team selection to stand a chance at lifting the trophy and living up to the expectations of millions of passionate fans.

THE VIEWS EXPRESSED BY THE AUTHOR ARE PERSONAL

Siddhaarth Mahan The writer is a specialist on Sports and Cinema who works as an actor in the Hindi film industry

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