Does India have the squad to win the T20 World Cup?

Members of India's T20 World Cup squad.
Members of India's T20 World Cup squad.


A mix of the old guard, returning aces and fresh faces offer the hope of a balanced squad. But can Rohit Sharma’s men win the Cup?

India’s T20 World Cup squad, announced on Tuesday, includes Sanju Samson and Shivam Dube, who are going great guns in the Indian Premier League (IPL) this year. The question is whether they will play or warm the benches, because the selectors have also included big name players Virat Kohli and Hardik Pandya.

In fact, except for opener Yashasvi Jaiswal replacing K.L. Rahul, the batting lineup appears identical to the one that underperformed in the 2022 T20 World Cup semi-final against England. Whether coach Rahul Dravid and skipper Rohit Sharma will shake things up by including Samson and Dube in the playing 11 remains to be seen.

Of spinners and death over specialists: The best news is the return of Rishabh Pant as wicketkeeper-batsman after recovering from a long injury layoff to make a scarcely believable comeback in the IPL. Leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal also returns to the team after a hiatus, following three great IPL seasons for Rajasthan Royals (RR). However, despite his heroics this season, he’s likely to be a backup to all-rounder and left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja and left-arm leg-spinner Kuldeep Yadav, except for the unlikely event of India fielding three spinners.


Yuzvendra Chahal has been selected for the India squad after a long hiatus.
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Yuzvendra Chahal has been selected for the India squad after a long hiatus. (AFP)

Mohammed Siraj and Arshdeep Singh, both going at an economy rate around 9.5 in the IPL, are Jasprit Bumrah’s partners in pace. Neither of those two is a death overs exponent, mostly relying on swinging the new ball to take wickets. The selectors needed to think out of the box here.

RR medium pacer Sandeep Sharma’s clever use of wide yorkers and slow bouncers have given him an economy rate a shade over 7 in the IPL. This places him below only Bumrah and the Tobagonian Sunil Narine among bowlers who have delivered 15 overs or more. He would have been handy at the death. India have suffered in the past when Arshdeep proved too expensive in the final overs.

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Another miss is Mayank Yadav, who made a sensational start to his IPL season, bowling at 155 kmph for six wickets in his first two games before pulling a side muscle. The selectors could have taken a punt by keeping him in the 15 and seeing how he shapes up in the rest of the season. Australia did that with Travis Head last year, who was on the bench despite being injured before the ODI World Cup. That paid rich dividends in the end.

Overall, the selection smacks of ticking all boxes and taking no chances. Whether that will bring home the cup that has eluded India since winning the inaugural T20 World Cup in 2007, we will find out next month. The team does have a number of match-winners.

Virat Kohli in action for Royal Challengers Bengaluru.
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Virat Kohli in action for Royal Challengers Bengaluru. (PTI)

Can Kohli cut it? The question is how India’s lineup compares with those of other top teams. England, for example, took a punt by including Jofra Archer for his extra pace, despite the speedster’s injury issues keeping him out of competitive cricket since May last year. And in Jos Buttler, Phil Salt, and Will Jacks, they have three power-hitters at the top.

The T20 game is on a rocket ship. When you see Jake Fraser-McGurk take a baseball hitter’s stance at the start of an innings and hit 23 sixes in six IPL games, you know it’s a new game. Will Jacks smashed 10 sixes in a 41-ball 100 for Royal Challengers Bengaluru (RCB) against Gujarat Titans (GT) on Sunday. Indian icon Virat Kohli too got 70 in 44 balls, but his was a supporting role.

Despite the knock against GT, Kohli’s strike rate for the season remains below 150, which compares poorly with strike rates of successful top order batsmen of other teams. His tendency to knock the ball around for singles in the middle overs has hurt both RCB and India.

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Kohli and K.L. Rahul had a 67-run partnership in 18 overs, at less than 4 an over, in the 2023 ODI World Cup final India lost to Australia in Ahmedabad. Similarly, Kohli’s 50 in 40 balls on a batting paradise in Adelaide in 2022 led to a humiliating loss to England in the semi-final of the last T20 World Cup. He will need to rediscover his pre-2020 avatar for India to post challenging totals in the modern T20 era.

Rishabh Pant will be keeping wickets for India at the T20 World Cup.
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Rishabh Pant will be keeping wickets for India at the T20 World Cup. (AFP)

It’s evident in the IPL that the success of teams has depended heavily on risk-taking hard-hitters, especially at the top of the order. Sure, you have the odd batting collapse as a result, but conservative approaches have failed more often.

The pitches in West Indies and the USA, where the 2024 T20 World Cup will be hosted right after the IPL, are similar to what we get in India—either batting-friendly or slow. So the ability to go hard in the powerplay, and against spinners later, will be vital. Conversely, bowlers who can trip the onslaught will win matches.

The squad does contain a batter who is an alternative to Kohli for the No. 3 position. And that is Samson, who has a strike rate of 161 with an average of 77 in the IPL. Both are higher than Kohli’s numbers, and it’s not as if Jaipur has a better batting surface than Bengaluru.

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Can Hardik Pandya keep out Shivam Dube? Another hard call for Dravid and Sharma to make, depending on how India’s group games go, will be the choice between vice-captain Hardik Pandya and Shivam Dube. Pandya’s been bowling sporadically at a high economy rate of around 12 in the IPL. His batting average around 25 at a strike rate around 150 makes him neither a middle order run-getter nor a cameo finisher. There’s little to justify a slot for him in the Indian 11 as an all-rounder on current form. He will need a dramatic turnaround in the rest of the season, beyond a couple of outlier performances.

Dube, on the other hand, has been a consistent destroyer of bowlers in the middle overs. He has been transformed into a T20 superman after coming under the tutelage of M.S. Dhoni at Chennai Super Kings (CSK) in 2022. This year, he has been even more impressive, hitting bouncers with aplomb, while continuing to put the heebie-jeebies into spinners. With a strike rate of 172, along with an average of 58 in the IPL, he should be a certainty in the Indian middle order. To break up the left-handers, Pant could bat at No. 4, with SKY at 5 and Dube at 6.

Dube fits the role of a lower order power-hitter better than Pandya, who has refashioned himself as a middle order batsman in the past three years. He can bowl a few overs of medium pace too, although IPL’s impact sub rule has denied him the opportunity to do so.

Chennai Super Kings' Shivam Dube.
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Chennai Super Kings' Shivam Dube. (AFP)

Given similar playing conditions to India in the West Indies and US, the selectors have done well to include most of the IPL’s top performers. And they took the tough decision to leave out K.L. Rahul, whose IPL strike rate is even lower than Kohli’s.

Yashasvi Jaiswal had a blip at the start of the IPL season after scoring two double centuries in the series against England. The T20 format made him hyper-aggressive. But a match-winning unbeaten 104 in 60 balls against Mumbai Indians (MI) last week reconfirmed his status. The left-right opening combination of Jaiswal and Sharma will be a match for any opposition, like Travis Head and Fraser-McGurk for Australia possibly.

The Indian skipper, Rohit Sharma, who turned 37 on Tuesday, has carried on in the IPL from where he left off in the ODI World Cup last year. With a strike rate around 160 and a healthy average, he fits right in with today’s power-hitters.

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But unlike in that final in Ahmedabad no Indian fan likes to be reminded about, the skipper needs to be more assertive in persuading his senior colleague, Kohli, to follow his lead of batting selflessly for the team. Personal milestones have been a bane of Indian cricket, and the World Cup will only come home if the team is placed first. India’s loyal fans deserve no less.

Rahul is an example of an outstanding batsman who has let a self-preservative mindset put shackles on his stroke-making. He had a strike rate of nearly 160 in the IPL back in 2018, which got him into the Indian team. Since then he has been holding back to avoid getting out, and now he has paid the price by missing out on selection for the 2024 T20 World Cup. That’s a good lesson for every batsman in the Indian team.

India T20 World Cup squad: Rohit Sharma (Captain), Yashasvi Jaiswal, Virat Kohli, Suryakumar Yadav, Rishabh Pant (Wicketkeeper), Sanju Samson (Wicketkeeper), Hardik Pandya (Vice-captain), Shivam Dube, Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Arshdeep Singh, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj. Reserves: Shubman Gill, Rinku Singh, Khaleel Ahmed, Avesh Khan

Sumit Chakraberty is a writer based in Bengaluru.

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