<
>

Will Shikhar Dhawan keep his spot? Virat Kohli at No. 4?

Virat Kohli walks down the stairs of the dressing room IDI via Getty Images

While the debates around India's No. 4 batsman and MS Dhoni's position in the side haven't died down despite the World Cup being over, a new set of questions, this time about the India's T20I squad, have begun to emerge, with less than 15 months to go for the 2020 T20 World Cup. Ahead of the three T20Is against West Indies, here are some issues the selection committee and team management will have to work at.

Will Shikhar Dhawan keep his place in the XI?

There isn't anything terribly wrong with Dhawan's recent T20 record - he was the fourth-highest run-scorer in IPL 2019 - but India have a surfeit of top-three options. Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma are almost certain to maintain their spots until the World Cup, and it might be quite hard to keep out KL Rahul with his recent record - top three on the list of IPL run-getters for two straight seasons plus a 40-plus average for India. You could try to fit all four into the XI, but that would mean either Kohli or Rahul having to bat out of position, at No. 4. If anyone has to make way, it might have to be Dhawan.

Where will Kohli bat?

Kohli has batted at No. 4 six times since the beginning of 2018 and has averaged less than 30 in that position, with no fifties. His strike rate at that position is just over 115. The question with Kohli at No. 4 is how India might use him if the top three builds a strong base. Will they promote Hardik Pandya or Rishabh Pant for an explosive finish, pushing Kohli even further down, or send in Kohli anyway? Kohli's preference would be No. 3, or even as opener as he has batted in the IPL, but India have to figure out the rest of their XI before deciding his position.

Who will the wicketkeeper be?

When life on earth ends, and the sun implodes, one question might still echo around the empty universe: "Will Dhoni play?" He hasn't retired after the World Cup, and has gone to the Kashmir valley instead. And even as Pant prepares to take the gloves for the whole of the West Indies tour, there's no clarity on Dhoni's status in the Indian team. If he doesn't return, Pant, who will most likely be part of the team as a batsman anyway, will probably get an extended run as keeper. Also in the wings are Ishan Kishan, who kept during the white-ball leg of India A's tour of the West Indies, and Sanju Samson. KL Rahul could also be an option in T20Is. Chief selector MSK Prasad has pretty much ruled out another chance for Dinesh Karthik, saying the selectors are looking for younger options.

The middle order…

That's right, again. This time, though, things are more complicated than simply finding a No. 4. If India do play Dhawan, Rohit, Rahul and Kohli as the top four, then they need to find just one more player to join Pant and Hardik in their top seven. Of course, that player could well be Dhoni. Assuming they need to find at least one more middle-order player, the three most likely options as of now are: Shreyas Iyer - back in the India squad after having impressed in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, IPL and for India A against West Indies A, Manish Pandey - back after finding form at the back-end of the IPL and hitting a century for India A, and Shubman Gill - three fifties and a ton for India A in his last six List A innings. Of course, there could always be someone new knocking on the doors with a strong domestic season and IPL.

Who will the second allrounder be?

If Dhawan sits out to allow Kohli to bat in the top three, India will have two middle-order slots to fill. It's likely the second will be filled by a batting allrounder, to give them a sixth bowling option. At the moment, it looks like a straight shootout between Vijay Shankar and Krunal Pandya. Although Vijay didn't have a great World Cup with the bat, he is likely to get more opportunities, and Krunal is in the squad for the T20Is against West Indies. Krunal's IPL record is outstanding - of all the Indian allrounders to have played the tournament, he has the best average differential (batting average minus bowling average): -1.99, even better than Hardik's -2.39. He has scored his runs at a 140-plus strike rate and gone at just over seven an over with the ball. He seems to be the frontrunner for the spot at the moment.

Will India stick with the two wristspinners?

Twelve months ago, Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal were being talked about as the keys to India's success in the shorter formats. This year, however, has been tough for the pair. They were both expensive in the IPL and, after looking to have bounced back during the World Cup, they were derailed by an England onslaught. Towards the end of the tournament, only one of them could fit into the team, with Ravindra Jadeja replacing the other. Now, both have been rested for the T20Is against West Indies, with India looking at other options. Kuldeep and Chahal are likely to get more chances, but for the moment, Jadeja looks like a certainty in the T20 side, especially after his performance for India in the World Cup semi-final, with Washington Sundar the other frontline spin option. Also lurking is the young legspinner Rahul Chahar, who has earned a call-up to the 15-member T20I squad in the West Indies after impressing in the IPL and India A tours.

The split-captaincy question

With Rohit's superior captaincy record in the IPL and discussions over Kohli's workload management, there is a case for splitting the captaincy, and giving the T20I reins to Rohit. Rohit is already the limited-overs vice-captain and has previously led India in Kohli's absence. A strong working relationship between them could be critical to India getting their plans right in Australia next year.