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India must use Krunal Pandya like Mumbai Indians do

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Great that we almost defended 126 - Krunal Pandya (3:44)

The allrounder says he's focussed on the immediate future, and isn't thinking too far ahead to the World Cup (3:44)

It takes some deliberation before you can say it, but Krunal Pandya might be India's best T20 allrounder. Any hesitation in stating that outright is because of three of his bowling spells soon after his India debut: his four overs for 40, 55 and 54 against West Indies (Chennai), Australia (Brisbane) and New Zealand (Hamilton) respectively.

He had gone for 40 or more only once in 62 T20 appearances before his international debut, in Rajkot. But expensive figures on varying surfaces against three different teams were not complete shockers; many domestic or IPL performers, especially those who bowl, have found the step up to internationals tricky. Sandeep Sharma, Parvinder Awana and, more recently, Mohammed Siraj, will vouch for it. Among allrounders, Stuart Binny replicated neither his nous at the domestic T20 level, nor his exquisite ODI numbers. The difference with Krunal, though, is that he has been able to bounce back every single time.

The Brisbane spell was followed by economic bowling (1 for 26 in four overs) and two catches in Melbourne and a four-for in Sydney. A 1 for 37 in Wellington was followed by 3 for 28 in Auckland. On the day he went for 54 In Hamilton, he returned with the bat to see India through in a chase.

That was two weeks before Sunday's spell in the first T20I against Australia in Visakhapatnam, where he conceded 17 runs in four overs after playing a reckless shot as India's last recognised batsman in a collapse. In defending 126, Krunal also ran out D'Arcy Short. That adds up to spells at less than six an over, a three-for and a four-for, and crucial efforts with bat and in the field. A more than acceptable early run in international cricket for an allrounder.

There's another way of looking at it too: Krunal has had bad days as a bowler in four out of his ten international games. Forty per cent is rather high for a player who, in this Indian line-up, is almost exclusively being played as a bowling allrounder. And while he has sample size in his favour, this is still a crucial checkpoint. Is he the best option for India in his current role?

Krunal can bat in the top six, can play finisher, and can give you four quality overs in a team where he is not the only allrounder. That is peak Krunal - at Baroda, and at Mumbai Indians. So why don't India have a similar role for him?

He burst into prominence because of his monstrous hitting in the IPL. An examination of those numbers suggests that India amend any mid-to-long-term middle-order plans they might have immediately and haul him into a permanent spot at No. 5. He's done it all: rescue acts after early collapses, improvisation on difficult pitches, a full range of batting carnage in the slog overs, and a neat little combination of all three when he was Man of the Match for his 47 in the 2017 IPL final.

While his bowling is a major skill in its own right - putting doubts even in AB de Villiers' mind at one point - when he is at his best, Krunal has been more of a support bowler than a frontline option for his franchise. For India, he has bowled out his quota every game. For Mumbai Indians, he has done it about half the time.

Krunal hasn't always been required to bowl out, thanks to Mumbai Indians' historically strong bowling roster. It isn't a difficult case to make that the Indian team now has a bowling line-up that outdoes that of Mumbai Indians. They have two outstanding wrist-spinners in their ranks, alongside two of the best death-overs bowlers in world cricket. With four world-class frontline bowlers, and competent depth in the allrounders' category, India are well-placed to exploit the full range of Krunal's batting abilities the way his franchise and state team do.

If they are prepared to drop a frontline batsman, for instance, and regularly play the Pandya brothers in the middle order, or Krunal in combination with Vijay Shankar, their batting in the latter stages of the innings might improve dramatically.

Since February 2016, India have a poor scoring rate in comparison to other international teams when they lose between three and five wickets between overs 7-16. Only five out of 12 times in such a situation have India managed to score at a strike rate higher than 120, the average for teams in such a situation.

That means India score below the average rate 41.67% of the time in a phase where acceleration begins. Only Sri Lanka and West Indies score below that rate more often than India. For context, a team like South Africa, with their many destructive allrounders, have scored above that rate 83.33% of the time, and other teams with similar compositions - England, Pakistan, New Zealand - have mid-fifties percentages.

Without putting too fine a point on it, India are perhaps showing signs of strategic or - at the very least - selection inertia. There's been enough written on T20 batting evolving into almost entirely a race for six-hitting, and despite their own league producing evidence of that, India haven't quite latched on to the idea.

There is undeniably an elite young talent pool available to pull something like that off. It's unlikely to happen at the moment, with even T20Is being used to provide match time to ODI World Cup aspirants. But there is time before next year's T20 World Cup - enough to accommodate for the best of India's futuristic T20 players. They only need to realise that they have already got one of them in the present.