<
>

Back-ups for Dhoni, and India's spin puzzle

Rishabh Pant's domestic form made it hard for the selectors to ignore him PTI

Presence of a wicketkeeper-batsman back-up in T20Is
MS Dhoni left his fate in the hands of the selectors and the new captain when he relinquished limited-overs captaincy, and the first impact of that might be visible in the T20 squad. While he continues to enjoy enough faith in the ODIs, Dhoni potentially has two players breathing down his neck in the shortest format.

All season long Rishabh Pant has dared the selectors to ignore him. An average of 81 is hard enough to overlook, but how long do you keep out a man who has scored all those runs at a strike rate of 107.28 in a first-class season? The cricketing set-up is positively excited at the prospect of having him turn Tests around once he has matured as a wicketkeeper, but his selection in the T20I side is no less significant. KL Rahul, who will open the innings in the three matches against England, can keep wicket in T20Is, too, as he did in the IPL.

There are murmurs a World T20 might be squeezed in in 2018 before the proposed 2020 edition. Forget the 2019 50-over World Cup, that's what India might have to prepare for first. Dhoni - no fifty yet in T20Is - will be under pressure in this format more than the ODIs, where experience and longer innings matter more.

R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja return
With the return of the Test spin twins, we are headed for interesting scenarios. Under Dhoni, Ashwin did not finish his quota in six of the last 10 T20 internationals. In ODIs, Dhoni dropped him after two matches in Australia in last January. The theme continued in the IPL when Dhoni captained Ashwin at the Rising Pune Supergiants franchise. It could be consistent with the trend of fingerspinners - especially offspinners - struggling in limited-overs formats or that Dhoni lost his faith in Ashwin, or a combination of both, but it is now interesting how Kohli will use his Test talisman in the limited-overs sides. Also will Kohli play all the three spinners available to him or will one out of Jadeja, Ashwin and Amit Mishra have to sit out in the ODIs?

Youngsters in T20I squad
Mandeep Singh. Yuzvendra Chahal. Pant. Never mind the experience of Ashish Nehra, the T20I squad is where the selectors have punted. Unlike in 2016, when more T20Is were played than ODIs, we are back to normalcy. So should there be a World T20 ahead of the proposed one in 2020, India want to be prepared. "That is the reason why we have given a couple of youngsters chances in T20," chairman of selectors, MSK Prasad, said. "That's why we backed Rishabh and Mandeep Singh. Because there is not much T20 cricket coming up."

No Amit Mishra in T20Is
Amit Mishra can stake claim to perhaps the weirdest T20 international career. There is no doubt that the shortest format has rejuvenated his career. In 20-over cricket, Mishra can use all his experience against batsmen who feel obligated to hit him and thus don't watch his variations as closely as in first-class cricket. On the back of his IPL performances, Mishra has resurrected his career in the longer formats, but for some reason he can't find a place in the India T20 sides despite an average of 13.71, an economy rate of 6.4 and a wicket every two overs.

You could argue those numbers can be skewed because he has played just eight T20 internationals, but that is half the story. He keeps getting dropped for no fault of his in T20s, and stays in the Test squad despite the reinforced focus on fitness in the longest format.

Mishra was India's second-best bowler in the World T20 in 2014 in Bangladesh, but, without getting a chance to fail after that, he was dropped from the next World T20. His only T20 international match following that came because of logistics. India were travelling back from the West Indies, and had two T20 internationals in the USA. So instead of flying in new spinners, India stuck with Mishra. He came in for the second match, bowled four overs for 24 runs and three wickets, and found himself out again. Originally out for inexplicable reasons, comes back in for logistical reasons, does well, goes out again.

Rahane's last chance?
Ajinkya Rahane has justifiably gained the reputation of the most versatile of the new crop of Indian Test batsmen, but in shorter formats, MS Dhoni has said, he tends to struggle when the pitches are slow or when the ball is soft. So you would think that the best place for him to bat would be at the top of the innings, a slot that Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan have made their own. Add Rahul in the mix, and you would think that room is full. However, with injuries to Rohit and Dhawan - Dhawan is now back in the ODI squad - Rahane had a whole series against New Zealand as an opener, but failed to grab that spot.

Being left out of the T20 squad at such a time can't be good news for Rahane. To regain confidence, he will have to do something special in the three ODIs either as an opener or against the softer ball in the middle, should Virat Kohli choose to open with Dhawan and Rahul.