From Pandya to Karthik: How IPL 2022 has impacted India T20 plans

Published on Jun 01, 2022 11:00 PM IST

The just-concluded IPL season has presented Rohit Sharma and Rahul Dravid with some fine options for the shortest version of the game.

Karthik's form for RCB as a finisher was the biggest factor in them reaching the playoffs.(PTI) PREMIUM
Karthik's form for RCB as a finisher was the biggest factor in them reaching the playoffs.(PTI)

As the curtain came down on IPL 2022, a 10-day break is all there is before the cricket caravan gets moving again. India host South Africa in a five-match T20I series from June 9 to 19 in the build-up to the T20 World Cup in Australia in October and November. Before IPL, some of India’s problem areas seemed to be Hardik Pandya’s form and fitness, the inconsistency of wrist spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav, and, to an extent, the absence of left-arm seamers. IPL 2022 helped allay some of the concerns.

Hardik fires again

There was no bigger gain for India than Hardik returning to his best while leading Gujarat Titans to the title. He had not played competitive cricket since being omitted from the Indian team after the 2021 T20 World Cup. But the break and work on fitness helped the 28-year-old reflect on his game and come back firing on all cylinders again.

The Gujarat Titans captaincy in their inaugural season never seemed to weigh him down. With his form and fitness under a cloud before the season, it would have been easy to simply focus on his game. Instead, he showed an aptitude for captaincy, promoted himself to mostly No 4 and also bowled at 140kph plus to provide key breakthroughs when his body allowed. The last bit is important from the Indian team’s perspective. If Hardik bowls his full quota of overs regularly, it lends the right balance to the Indian team, especially on Australian pitches.

The search for that balance has seen India try out Venkatesh Iyer and Shivam Dube, but neither of them has done enough in the chances provided to be an alternative to Hardik. While Iyer hasn’t really clicked with the bat for India yet, he has only been sparingly used as a bowler. Even for KKR, he bowled a total of four overs across 12 matches this season. Dube, meanwhile, played a couple of eye-catching knocks for CSK this year but is far from becoming the all-rounder that India need.

India’s finishing options

Hardik’s return also eases India’s concerns at No 6, a position that requires a range of skills, be it the finishing role in a tense run chase or bailing the team out when wickets fall early. Hardik can perform both. Yes, his finishing skills didn’t come into play this season, but he mostly batted at No 4 due to a lack of other suitable options in the squad. For India, he will return to No 6 because his hitting prowess at the death still stands out.

Providing competition is Dinesh Karthik. The 37-year-old wicketkeeper-batter has had many setbacks in his stop-start international career, but his determination to keep bouncing back deserves admiration. In IPL 2022, his form for RCB as a finisher was the biggest factor in them reaching the playoffs. He scored at a strike rate (183.33) that was higher than anyone who faced at least 100 balls in the tournament. With Rishabh Pant ensconced at No 5, Karthik’s drawback is that he is competing for a slot at No 6 or 7 where the ability to bowl is often a prerequisite. But if he maintains his form during the series against South Africa, India might be compelled to find a way to accommodate him.

Beyond them and spin-bowling all-rounders like Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel who can bat at No 7, Rahul Tewatia has also made himself a contender. He took Gujarat Titans over the line in a few nail-biting chases, none more noteworthy than his two sixes off the last two balls against Punjab Kings. While he hasn't been included in the Indian squad for the SA series, the selectors might want to have a glance at him before the World Cup. He squandered an opportunity in March last year when he was picked for a T20 series against England but failed a fitness test before it.

The ‘KulCha’ treat

Three of the top five wicket-takers in IPL 2022 were wrist spinners, underlining their primacy in T20. That Chahal and Kuldeep took 27 and 21 wickets for Rajasthan Royals and Delhi Capitals respectively must be a big relief for India. Neither was brimming with confidence coming into IPL, having had to battle for their India spots since the 2019 ODI World Cup. Left-arm wrist-spinner Kuldeep in particular has barely had game time, playing just three ODIs and T20Is each in the last 12 months. A knee injury before the second half of last year’s IPL meant Kuldeep could not play a single game for Kolkata Knight Riders in 2021 after playing just five in the preceding edition.

Having switched teams this season, both were rejuvenated. Their wickets were rewards for their tossing the ball up, enticing batters into playing risky shots. On Australia’s bigger grounds, India can bank on them as a pair to prise out key scalps.

Rising left-arm pacers

While Punjab Kings pacer Arshdeep Singh has earned a maiden call-up for the South Africa series, left-arm pacers Mohsin Khan, Khaleel Ahmed, T Natarajan, Yash Dayal and Mukesh Choudhary seem equally capable of adding a different dimension to India’s attack. From mid to late 2000s India had Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, RP Singh and Irfan Pathan to choose from, but left-arm pacers of quality had dried up in recent years.

Arshdeep’s strengths come through towards the end of an innings. How he has nailed his yorkers and slower-ball variations show in his excellent economy rate of 7.58 in 17 overs bowled in the death this season. If he gets to play against the Proteas, he will need to impress as there is a line of left-armers waiting in the wings.

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    Vivek Krishnan is a sports journalist who enjoys covering cricket and football among other disciplines. He wanted to be a cricketer himself but has gladly settled for watching and writing on different sports.

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