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Options aplenty for India who have tough choices to make


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There have been many positives for India in the nine T20Is they've played at home since their early exit from last year's T20 World Cup, those that hold them in good stead in the build up to the next iteration of the marquee event in Australia later this year. Having swept each of the three home series - against New Zealand, West Indies and Sri Lanka, India have now registered 12 victories on the bounce, which is a joint world record, while they have also recorded seven bilateral T20I series wins on the trot at home.

Competition for batting spots

The likes of Virat Kohli, Rishabh Pant and KL Rahul, key members of the Indian team, have contributed consistently to India's victory run. But their absence in the recent games, due to rest or injuries, hasn't been a really big miss for the team because different players have stood up to make the most of their opportunities. Rohit Sharma was the chief run-getter in the matches against New Zealand while Suryakumar Yadav proved his worth to the team with crucial knocks in the middle order which got him the Player of the Series award against West Indies. Ishan Kishan, after a struggle against West Indies, made a telling contribution in the opening game of the T20I series against Sri Lanka. When Rohit fell early in the second and the third games against Sri Lanka, it was Shreyas Iyer batting at the No. 3 spot who ensured India were not hurt by the captain's early dismissals.

With three unbeaten half-centuries in as many games against Sri Lanka, and all three with different tones and adaptations to meet the team's needs, Shreyas has left the team management with a lot of thinking to do. If his 28-ball 57 in the opening T20I was about providing a fiery finish, his 44-ball 74* in the second revived India's chase after they were struggling a bit in response to Sri Lanka's 183/5. He then struck an unbeaten 73 off 45 in a chase of 147 in the final game, ensuring that the team did not run out of steam despite wickets falling around him.

Shreyas, though, is not looking too far ahead and acknowledges the tough competition for spots in the team. "Obviously, coming not out in all the three games, it was a commendable performance from myself. Expectation wise I'm not keeping any expectations for myself nor from the team coaches. Because if you see the competition in our team, it's immense and every individual is capable of winning you games. So for me personally I want to enjoy each and every moment and the opportunity which I've been provided with and I like to finish off the games. That's my mindset whenever I go on to the pitch," he said at the press conference after India's 3-0 victory against Sri Lanka.

"See, I think it's way (too) long to think about right now," said Shreyas about the World Cup. "I can't talk about cementing my place because as I mentioned earlier, the competition is so much and you need to be flexible in terms of batting in any position or any given situation. So my mindset is just to grab as many opportunities as I can and see to it that I maximise the use of it."

Since January 2021, Rohit Sharma has played the most games amongst the Indian batters, and has the most runs - 540 in 17 innings at an average of 31.76 with five half-centuries. Shreyas, Kohli, Suryakumar, Ishan, Rahul and Pant occupy the next spots in the top seven, each of them having scored more than 300 or close to it. Since the start of 2021, Pakistan have the most number of individual fifty-plus scores, with 28 of them in 29 matches. India are second with 25 fifty-plus scores, which have come in 22 matches, with 22 of those coming in wins. Pakistan have 23 out of 28 in wins. Options are aplenty for the Indian team but what is a happy headache is that opportunities are being seized consistently.

All-round options

Hardik Pandya's fitness issues, and question marks over his availability to bowl, meant that India have had to quickly look for another option who can wield the long handle as well as bowl some overs of seam-up. Venkatesh Iyer, brought in to play that role, has delivered.

Crucial knocks against West Indies apart, he has also been amongst the wickets which would have pleased the Indian team management, who would have also been delighted to have Ravindra Jadeja back in the mix. Jadeja's belligerent 47 not out off 19 helped India over the line in the second T20I while he was there lending Shreyas support again in the third game with a 22* off 15. Add Deepak Chahar, Shardul Thakur and Washington Sundar to the mix, India have quite a few all-round options even if Hardik isn't part of the plans going forward.

Effective pace and spin resources

Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar have been India's main pace options in the T20I format but India's fast bowling arsenal isn't just limited to them. Harshal is the leading wicket-taker for India after the T20 World Cup in UAE, having picked up 11 at a strike rate of 15.8 and an average of 22.45 and an economy of under nine. Chahar, although a touch expensive in international T20s, has shown his abilities in the past and it's not for nothing that the Chennai Super Kings shelled out INR 14 Crore to buy him back in the IPL auction. Mohammed Siraj and Avesh Khan, with their impressive bowling display in the third T20I against Sri Lanka on the bounce-friendly Dharamsala wicket, will also be useful in Australian conditions.

A healthy competition has also been brewing among India's wrist spinners, with Yuzvendra Chahal and Ravi Bishnoi doing well in the recent matches. Kuldeep Yadav got his first opportunity after a long gap when he was part of the XI in the third T20I and despite going wicketless, bowled well. The finger spin options of Jadeja, R Ashwin and Varun Chakravarthy were chosen by India during the World Cup but with wrist spin offering some stiff competition, India are spoilt for choices.

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"A lot of positives from this series. That is something we've kept in mind - good to give opportunities to a few of those guys," Rohit told Star Sports after the third T20I against Sri Lanka. "We do understand at times that we've held back but it's important to tell the guys that you don't have to worry about your positions in the team. We want to fill whatever gaps we have and we do have. We just want to move forward, It's going to be a big challenge but it's nice to have guys in form rather than not in form. If the guys take the opportunity the way some of these guys have taken, you can move from strength to strength."

After the IPL, India are set to play five T20Is against South Africa at home in June. They will also play three against England in July. So India won't be short of T20I match-practice in the lead-up to the World Cup in Australia unlike the previous edition when IPL was all that they had to finalise the squad. Several options have been tried out and a bulk of them have thrown their hat in. The captain, the team management and the selectors have their work cut out in the near future to address the big challenge that Rohit spoke of - finding the combination among a plethora of quality options.

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