Virat Kohli will begin his final stint as T20I captain of India when the former champions face England in their first of the two warm-up games in Dubai on Monday. Kohli will be looking at the two warm-up matches to zero in on an ideal playing XI as India have some issues to sort out before they take on arch-rivals Pakistan in the Super 12 meeting on October 24.
India will take on England on Monday and Australia on Wednesday in their two warm-up matches before the Super 12 stages. Notably, the T20 World Cup 2021 got underway in Oman on Sunday with the hosts making a statement of intent, hammering debutantes Papua New Guinea by 10 wickets in a Round 1 Group B match.
Plenty of questions were asked when the Board of Control for Cricket in India announced India's 15-man squad for the T20 World Cup. Kohli and the team management, which includes mentor MS Dhoni, have a task in their hand as they need to sort out the ideal combination.
Hardik Pandya's form will be one of the key aspects that India will look at during the two warm-up matches. Hardik hasn't bowled since India's tour of England in February and the Mumbai Indians all-rounder did not roll his arm over during the entirety of IPL 2021 as the team management was cautious of his recurring back injury concerns.
Can India use Hardik as pure batsman?
It remains to be seen if India are willing to use Hardik Pandya as a pure batsman in the lower-middle order but the inclusion of Shardul Thakur, who replaced Axar Patel in the 15-man squad before the October 15 deadline.
If India play Hardik as a pure batsman, they have to rely on a 5-man bowling attack which might prove dangerous. However, the premier all-rounder had hinted that he will bowl sooner than later and India will be hoping Hardik can roll his arm over for a couple of overs, if not his full quota of 4 overs.
On the other hand, the opening combination looks set with Rohit Sharma and in-form KL Rahul set to bat at the top. However, Ishan Kishan's return to form in the latter stages of the IPL might tempt India to opt for a right-left combination.
Nonetheless, Rahul will be the favorite considering that he has the experience of playing pressure matches and is in good form having amassed 626 runs (including 30 sixes) at a strike rate of 138.80 in 14 IPL 2021 games.
India will also look to zero in on their pace-bowling combination. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah are likely to be first-choice pacers but Mohammed Shami will be hoping to make a mark in the warm-up matches. Shardul can also be a good 3rd pace-bowling option and if he impresses, he can even replace Hardik in the XI.
Varun Chakravarthy in focus in warm-up games
In the spin-bowling department, India have plenty of options to choose from. While Ravindra Jadeja is a certain starter, India will hope Varun Chakravarthy is fit to take the field against Pakistan. There were reports that Chakravarthy had knee issues during IPL 2021 and Kolkata Knight Riders had their task cut out to manage his workload.
If India opt to play 3 spinners, there will be a toss-up between leg-spinner Rahul Chahar and off-spinner R Ashwin, who returns to the T20i fold after a gap of nearly 4 years.
For England, a rejuvenated Jos Buttler with his pyrotechnics will hold the key along with the flamboyant Jason Roy and another senior batter in Jonny Bairstow.
If the IPL is any indicator, on the slow tracks some of the English players like Liam Livingstone and Dawid Malan seemed to struggle when the ball didn't come on to the bat. Skipper Eoin Morgan was brilliant as a leader at KKR but he would also like to score a few runs going into the tournament proper.
India: Virat Kohli (capt), Rohit Sharma (vc), KL Rahul, Suryakumar Yadav, Rishabh Pant (wk), Ishan Kishan (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Varun Chakravarthy, Rahul Chahar, Shardul Thakur, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Hardik Pandya.
England: Eoin Morgan (capt), Jason Roy, Sam Billings, Liam Livingstone, Dawid Malan, Jos Buttler (wk), Jonny Bairstow (wk), Moeen Ali, Tom Curran, Chris Jordan, David Willey, Chris Woakes, Tymal Mills, Adil Rashid, Mark Wood.