The significance of the second Twenty20 International between India and England for Indian cricket fans

Three of India’s most senior players, Virat Kohli, Ravindra Jadeja, and Jasprit Bumrah, will make their comebacks for the second Twenty20 International between England and India at Edgbaston, Birmingham.

This will only be Kohli and Bumrah’s third and Jadeja’s fourth T20I match since India were eliminated from the group stage of the 2021 T20 World Cup. 

What is the significance of this game for Indian cricket fans? 

Not only will this fixture answer Indian cricket fans’ questions about where some of these players stand in the 2022 World Cup picture, but it will also kick off the run that will determine a number of players’ World Cup spots.

While the path for Bumrah and Jadeja is clear, with Bumrah being one of the greatest T20 bowlers ever to have played the game and at the peak of his career, and Jadeja’s backup Axar Patel failing to impress in the opportunities he was given, Kohli’s road back is more complicated.

Suryakumar Yadav, Deepak Hooda, and Shreyas Iyer, the three middle-order backups, have all lit up the field with impressive numbers in limited opportunities.

In T20Is since 2021:

  • Suryakumar Yadav: Mat – 17, Runs – 405, Avg/SR – 34/171
  • Deepak Hooda: Mat – 6, Runs – 205, Avg/SR – 68/172
  • Shreyas Iyer: Mat – 17, Runs – 474, Avg/SR – 47/148

Predictably, Kohli has the lowest strike rate of them all (368 runs at 61/132), and in addition to the well-documented years of IPL struggles, he is also the one who suffers the most against spin – the primary requirement for a middle-order role.

In T20Is since 2021 vs spin: 

  • Virat Kohli: Runs – 92, Balls – 103, Outs – 5, Avg/SR – 18/89
  • Suryakumar Yadav: Runs – 167, Balls – 94, Outs – 4, Avg/SR – 42/178
  • Shreyas Iyer: Runs – 128, Balls – 78, Outs – 2, Avg/SR – 64/164
  • Deepak Hooda: Runs – 56, Balls – 32, Outs – 0, Avg/SR – NA/175

However, Kohli still has a case because the World Cup will be held in Australia. And Australia requires batters specialising in pace bowling, particularly back of length at 140+kph. Perhaps the team management also recognises it, which is why, despite what Yadav, Iyer, and Hooda have done, he remains at the top of the pecking order (Read: The Rahul Dravid Reset – Part I on what India have learnt from Kohli-Shastri’s mistakes and Part II on how India are setting up for the World Cup)

In T20Is since 2021 vs pace: 

  • Virat Kohli: Runs – 276, Balls – 176, Outs – 1, Avg/SR – 276/157
  • Suryakumar Yadav: Runs – 219, Balls – 128, Outs – 8, Avg/SR – 27/171
  • Shreyas Iyer: Runs – 342, Balls – 241, Outs – 8, Avg/SR – 43/142
  • Deepak Hooda: Runs – 149, Balls – 87, Outs – 3, Avg/SR – 50/171

The figures are not surprising. If you know Kohli, you know he has one of the most expansive down-the-ground attacking ranges against high-end pace bowlers. If he can do this at his worst, imagine what he can do at his best. That is possibly what India hopes to achieve by sticking with him and hoping he finds form.

But all of this is fine for the time being. The team management and selectors will conduct a final review of all performances under the current coaching staff, most likely in late August or just before the World Cup. And at that point, Kohli will need to show form, the kind of form that can coexist with India’s new T20 batting philosophy of trying to be proactive in taking down bowlers, rather than his usual way of settling in for 15 overs and trying to take bowlers down at the death.

How will India integrate Kohli into the lineup?

India likely see Virat Kohli as their No.3 for the World Cup, with KL Rahul sandwiched between captain Rohit Sharma and the 33-year-old. However, with Rahul unavailable for the series, Kohli could be pushed up to open the innings in place of Ishan Kishan. While it makes positional sense to keep Kishan over Suryakumar Yadav, the latter is far more important to the Indian team, serving as the first backup to many middle-order positions and being very close to making the first XI.

The fact that the opposition in this series does not have an SLA or a powerplay spinner only strengthens his case for opening with Rohit Sharma. Kohli’s strongest phase in a 20-over game has traditionally been the powerplay, with the first 6 overs primarily featuring quick bowlers and providing the fielding restriction cushion to counter spinners.

What about Rishabh Pant?

Similar to Kohli, based on his T20I record and three subpar IPL seasons, Rishabh Pant has the weakest positional case. But once more, like Kohli, he has a ‘type’ advantage, meaning he is a better fit for the team because of being the only left-hander in the full-strength Top 7. 

Pant, too, will face a final reckoning just before the World Cup, and at that juncture, his type advantage won’t sell as easily as it has so far, and he’ll need better numbers than a career average of 23 and a career strike rate of 124.

Lowest batting average in T20I since 2018 (min 30 games and min 500 balls): Soumya Sarkar (16.3), Afif Hossain (17.7), Liton Das (20.5), Kyle Coetzer (20.8), S Hetmyer (21.5), Rishabh Pant (22.5)

How the team is likely to approach the DK situation 

Dinesh Karthik is India’s most recent but excellent and, with the World Cup in Australia, timely addition to the batting lineup. There are two possibilities here: DK retaining his spot as a specialist in the role, or the team demoting Suryakumar to play an unfamiliar lower-middle order role because he was the first to get in. 

A more rational team will go with Karthik’s proven lower-order ability, while an emotional one will choose Suryakumar. And so far, under Rahul Dravid, India have appeared to be a rational team. The Indian head coach also believes in having specialised and experienced pace hitting options down the order, as evidenced by previous instances involving MS Dhoni at India or Brad Hodge at Rajasthan Royals.

So what’s the likely playing XI? 

Rohit Sharma(c), Virat Kohli, Suryakumar Yadav, Rishabh Pant(wk), Hardik Pandya, Dinesh Karthik, Ravindra Jadeja, Harshal Patel, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Yuzvendra Chahal

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