It’s been a hectic season for Virat Kohli and his men. They just finished the ODI series against Australia and now, they are off to New Zealand. In fact, there’s a mere four days gap between the final ODI against Australia which was played on the 19th of January and India play their first T20I on the 24th.
India don’t have a great record against the Kiwis in the shortest format. In fact, it was only in 2017 that India won their first T20I against New Zealand. Out of the 11 T20Is, they have won just three against them. In New Zealand, the ‘Men in Blue’ have won just one T20I (out of five). The Men in Blue have never won a T20I series there. Hence, this five-match T20I series is a big opportunity for Kohli and Co to script history.
With the first T20I only a few days away, let’s take a look at the predicted XI for the T20I series:
1. Rohit Sharma
While 2019 was outstanding for Rohit Sharma in Tests and ODIs, he didn’t really enjoy the same success in the shortest format. He averaged just 28.28 and amassed 396 runs from 14 innings. However, he did show some improvement towards the end of the year as he ended it with a fluent 71 against West Indies.
He wasn’t a part of the T20I series that played against Sri Lanka earlier this month. However, Rohit’s form isn’t too concerning. It doesn’t take long for him to get back to his best. He has the ability to score fast and score big as well.
The Indian vice-captain looked good against Australia and scored a match-winning ton in the third ODI as well. Hence, he is in good form and he will be crucial at the top of the order for the ‘Men in Blue’.
2. KL Rahul
With Shikhar Dhawan injured, KL Rahul is certain to open and that debate has been put to rest for the moment. Rahul has been in excellent form in the recent past. In ODI cricket, his batting position has shuffled around but he’s remained constant at the top of the order in T20Is.
Moreover, he’s consistently got runs as well and may have well earned to right to be called India’s No. 1 T20 opener alongside Rohit Sharma. The Karnataka lad was the second-best Indian batsman in T20Is in 2019. He scored 356 runs at an average of 44.50 and a strike-rate of 142.40. He started 2020 with on a great note as well.
Rahul got a couple of good knocks against Sri Lanka before showing his versatility against the Aussies. He’s been hitting the ball really well and the tracks in New Zealand will aid his stroke play. Also, this is Rahul’s first tour to New Zealand as well.
3. Virat Kohli
It is no secret that Virat Kohli is a beast and churns out runs consistently irrespective of the format he’s playing. The Indian captain is the leading run-scorer in the shortest format in international cricket. He’s got 2689 runs at an average of 52.72 in T20I cricket and has scored 24 half-centuries which is the most as well.
Kohli has been in fine touch as well. He scored a couple of excellent half-centuries in the T20I series against West Indies and looked in a different zone altogether. He continued that and got a couple of decent starts against Sri Lanka. Meanwhile, he also scored a couple of fifties in the ODI series against Australia.
Hence, Kohli is key at No. 3 and the batting line-up revolves around him. He can play in different gears and he’s shown that multiple times. Hence, Kohli will be looking to extend his dominance in T20Is.
4. Shreyas Iyer
There’s been quite a bit of shuffling around No. 4 once again. Just when you thought Shreyas Iyer has settled in, there was some shakeup in the ODI format. In T20Is, this has been more of a floating position with players batting at this spot according to the situation of the game.
Iyer is expected to start the series and will be slotted to bat at 4 as well. After a couple of low scores, he looked in good touch in the third ODI against Australia. He countered the short ball well too. Moreover, he had a decent season at home as he scored 143 runs at an average of 28.60 and a strike-rate of 145.91 in T20Is.
The Mumbaikar will be tested on New Zealand shores. This will just his third tour away from home after South Africa 2018 and West Indies 2019.
5. Rishabh Pant
All has not been rosy for Rishabh Pant of late. It was barely a couple of months back when he was criticised for his shot selection. Now, just when he was getting his form and rhythm back, he was struck on the helmet in the first ODI against Australia and didn’t feature in the second game.
KL Rahul donned the gloves and did well behind the stumps and also at the No.5 position. Skipper Virat Kohli also said that the Karnataka lad might continue as the wicket-keeper batsman. However, that may be for ODI cricket. Pant may continue to be India’s keeper in the shortest format.
When West Indies toured India, the Delhi stumper did a few good outings across ODIs and T20Is. He was hitting the ball well too. Thus, Pant will be hoping for a good series as he looks to seal his spot once again.
6. Shivam Dube
Hardik Pandya’s absence has opened the door for Shivam Dube. He hasn’t got any big opportunities but in whatever chances he’s got, he has blown hot and cold. It’s been in T20 cricket that Dube has played a lot more.
Having made his debut against Bangladesh, the Mumbai seam-bowling all-rounder has featured in eight out of the nine T20Is since his debut. He has batted four times, remaining unbeaten twice and scoring 64 runs, including a half-century when he was promoted to No. 3.
With the ball, Dube has been inconsistent. He picked up an impressive 3/30 against Bangladesh to turn the game but hasn’t done a lot apart from that. This could be a pivotal series for Dube. With Hardik Pandya close to full fitness, Dube could well find himself out of the team when the Baroda all-rounder returns.
7. Washington Sundar
Washington Sundar has been India’s premier spin-bowling all-rounder in T20I cricket. However, the Tamil Nadu off-spinner hasn’t been consistent at all. But he has shown signs of improving his form with the ball over the last month or two.
In fact, he’s had pretty impressive figures over the last couple of series’. He’s bowled economically and picked up wickets as well. Sundar had figures of 1/34, 1/26, 0/5 (one over) – all against West Indies and 1/29, 2/37 – all against Sri Lanka in the last two T20I series.
Sundar can bowl in the powerplay and also, in the middle. It’s his batting where his form has taken a hit at the international level. But he has the ability to tonk a few out of the ground and be an effective customer at No. 7.
8. Mohammed Shami
2019 saw the comeback of Mohammed Shami, the white-ball bowler. He finished at the top of the wicket charts in ODI cricket. However, when Mohammed made a return to the T20I side against West Indies, it was after a period of two and a half years that he featured in the XI of a T20I. The Bengal pacer was impressive as he returned with figures of 2/25.
Moreover, Shami’s consistency has improved quite a bit. Shami is bowling a lot more yorkers and has become a reliable option at the death. He might as well compete with Shardul Thakur for a place in the XI. However, Shami’s improved skill at the death makes him a favourite to slot in straight away.
Shami has played a mere eight T20Is in his career. He’s picked up 10 wickets and has been very expensive. Hence, he will be looking to add more caps to his T20I career.
9. Kuldeep Yadav
India have opted (or rather forced) to play just one wrist-spinner in the absence of Hardik Pandya. It’s been Kuldeep Yadav who’s featured in the XI more often than Yuzvendra Chahal in the recent past. The chinaman bowler had a topsy-turvy campaign.
Kuldeep has been bowling well and has developed the knack of producing breakthroughs during key moments. He is a wicket-taker and is someone who isn’t afraid to toss the ball up despite being hit for boundaries. The Uttar Pradesh spinner picked up three wickets in the ODI series against Australia while he picked up 2/38 in the only T20I he played against the Lankans.
He was key during India’s tour of New Zealand last year. This time will be no different either as the onus will be on Kuldeep to provide breakthroughs in the middle overs.
10. Jasprit Bumrah
It took time for Jasprit Bumrah to ease back into international cricket after a four-month layoff. After recovering completely, the ace Indian fast bowler returned to the side for the T20I series against Sri Lanka where he picked up two wickets from as many games.
He looked listless in his comeback ODI game but came back strongly. Bumrah may not have picked wickets but he has kept things very tight and built pressure. He took just one wicket in the entire series but bowled really well in the last two games. At the start, Bumrah didn’t give away too much while he was on point with his yorkers.
The Gujarat pacer will lead India’s pace attack. There’s no doubt that he will be the premier death bowler as well. Moreover, this is Bumrah’s maiden tour to New Zealand.
11. Navdeep Saini
Navdeep Saini’s stocks have shot up quite a bit over the last couple of months. After an impressive showing in the domestic white-ball tournaments, the Delhi fast bowler made a comeback in the ODI and T20 squads against West Indies in the third ODI. He continued to be a part of the XI in most games since then.
Saini impressed in his debut ODI as he picked up 2/58 against a rampaging West Indian batting line-up. Meanwhile, he was awarded the man of the series against Sri Lanka in a three-match T20I series. He picked five wickets from two games and bowled with great fire and intent. He continued that in the ODI series against Australia and had a decent impact.
While Saini was inconsistent, he was impressive as well. His ability to nail the yorker at pace at the death was excellent. Hence, India will be hoping he can continue his good form and a few good outings could help Saini move up the pecking order amongst fast bowlers.
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