Kolkata: Will the 15-member Indian squad for the T20 World Cup in the UAE see a change at the last moment? The buzz has grown stronger with doubts persisting on at least two players’ fitness levels, now that the International Cricket Council (ICC) has extended the deadline for making changes to the final squad for Super-12 teams to October 15 midnight.
There is major question mark around star allrounder Hardik Pandya’s ability to bowl four overs of seam - as he did not bowl at all for his franchise Mumbai Indians in the 14th season of the Indian Premier League (IPL 2021). The last time he bowled for India was during the white ball series against Sri Lanka as part of the squad led by Shikhar Dhawan in July, following which he only batted for his franchise Mumbai Indians - and the team management had repreatedly stonewalled the issue of his bowling fitness.
Pandya, who was seen as a complete package with his explosive batting and seam bowling ever since he broke into international cricket, suffered a stress fracture at the back during India’s Asia Cup campaign in 2018 in the UAE. He had to undergo a surgery and was out of international arena for close to a year - following which he had to lose out on his place in the Test squad largely for his inability to bowl.
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The other cricketer carrying a suspected knee condition into the tournament is mystery bowler Varun Chakravarthy, whom the Chetan Sharma-led selection committee preferred in view of his ability to keep the batsmen guessing on the UAE wickets during the 2020 as well as current edition of the IPL. The fitness levels of Chakravarthy had been a point of concern for Indian skipper Virat Kohli in the past, but he is surely being seen as a matchwinner - and there are only four overs to be bowled.
Media reports suggest that both Kohli and Rohit Sharma, vice-captain, may get into a tele conference with the selectors to take a final call on any last-minute changes by availing the extended deadline. However, the general feeling is that unless Pandya or Chakravarthy is ruled out purely on fitness grounds, India may gamble with them - though Pandya’s not bowling will affect the composition of the team.
The 15-member squad has three fast bowlers at this point in Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah and Bhubaneshwar Kumar and as many as five spinners in Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, Rahul Chahar and Chakravarthy. The UAE wickets, if the IPL is any indication, calls for a seamer in the role of the fifth bowler who can take the pace off the ball - as Kieron Pollard or someone like newcomer Venkatesh Iyer have shown. There are, of course, two candidates among the stand-byes who can do the job in Shardul Thakur and Dipak Chahar - and a clear picture will emerge over the next couple of days.
Meanwhile, Umran Malik - the tearaway from Jammu & Kashmir who was highly impressive in the IPL for Sunrisers Hyderabad - has been rewarded by the Indian team management as he has been drafted in as a net bowler in India’s bio bubble.
India’s ICC T20 World Cup schedule
October 24: India vs Pakistan, 6 pm, Dubai
Oct 31: India vs New Zealand, 6 pm, Dubai
November 3: India vs Afghanistan, 6 pm, Abu Dhabi
November 5: India vs B1, 6 pm, Dubai
November 8: India vs A2, 6 pm, Dubai