Rohit Sharma feels it's important for Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan to relax and enjoy being part of the Indian team rather than thinking too much and putting themselves under pressure ahead of the T20I series against England, which kicks off on March 12 in Ahmedabad.
For both Yadav and Kishan, it's their first call-up to the national side. In 2020, under Sharma, the two had played an important role in helping the Mumbai Indians lift their fifth IPL trophy. In 13 innings, Kishan smashed 516 runs at an average of 57.33 and a strike rate of 145.76, while Yadav had 480 runs in 15 innings with an average of 40.00 and a strike rate of 145.01.
Sharma was confident the duo will keep their form going when given an opportunity, but he also had a word of caution for them, saying things won't be that easy at the international level.
"I don't want them to be thinking about anything," Sharma, India's white-ball vice-captain, said on Wednesday. "That's how they bring their best performance out. Having watched them closely for a few years now, I have realised it's important for them to be part of this wonderful team, a great set-up, which the team has. So I just want them to have fun and understand what this team is all about.
"Keeping in mind that this is their first time in the squad, they will be a little nervous, they will be thinking about performance and all. But it's important for people like me, other senior members and the coaching staff to tell them that it's just another team that you got to be part of and they just have to enjoy that moment because thinking about performance and what they need to do when they get an opportunity will only put pressure on them.
"So [they should] just have fun, relax and be part of this wonderful set-up first and when the opportunity comes… These guys have done really well in the last few years, especially the last year, and it's just about carrying that form and putting it out there. It's not going to be that easy here. They will be challenged every now and then but that's what international cricket is all about. How you respond to those challenges is crucial. So you need to keep telling them about having the right mindset to counter those challenges."
The five-match T20I series will be a preparatory step for India for the 2021 T20 World Cup, for which they are the hosts as well. Till now, India's approach to T20I cricket hasn't been very different from their ODI approach, which is to settle down before playing their shots. Sharma, who is the leading century-maker in T20Is with four tons and has a strike rate of 138.78 in the format, said it's the match situation that dictates how he bats.
"I have played more than 100 T20Is, so you should know my approach by now, what my approach is, what I do," he said. "I don't need to talk about the approach I bring into the game because I have done for many years now but yeah, the situation changes every now and then. So based on the situation of the game, I have to change my game. The approach will always remain the same, which is to have that intent, to have that scoring mindset.
"The situation of the game is what I look forward to because that keeps changing every game that you play. So I think it's very important for me to understand that situation and play accordingly, whether we bat first or bowl first. The situation of the game demands the approach of your batting. So keeping that in mind, I play my game."
In order to have their best possible XI at the World Cup, a big factor will be how much bowling load Hardik Pandya can take. Pandya has hardly bowled after recovering from the back surgery. He was excellent with the bat at the 2020 IPL but didn't deliver a single ball in the whole tournament. In Australia, he rolled his arm over four overs in the second ODI but then didn't bowl in the next game, or the following three-match T20I series.
Sharma was tight-lipped on whether Pandya will play the first T20I on Friday but said the allrounder was doing "pretty much everything" to be fit and do what the team expected him to.
"I cannot reveal who starts and who doesn't start," Sharma said. "Of course, he has been with the squad and has been an integral part of the squad. He has been working on his bowling, he has been working on his batting and the particular skillset he has. He has been trying to sharpen those skillsets as well.
"It has been a good month-and-a-half that he has been with the team and has done pretty much everything he needed to do to get ready for this limited-overs series. It seems that the time has come for him to get ready and start doing what he does. He has worked hard on his bowling and hard on his batting in the last few weeks. I hope he is ready to do what the team expects him to."
'Challenge for me in Test cricket is how many balls I play, not how many runs I score'
Sharma has had a successful Test series in Australia and then against England at home, where the spin-friendly pitches made run-scoring difficult. Talking about his form in red-ball cricket, Sharma said he felt the challenge for him is to stay at the pitch for as long as possible, and the confidence he gained from scoring runs while curbing his natural instincts will help him in the shorter formats too.
"The benefit [of the red-ball success] is when you have to keep aside your natural and then play, I feel you have already won a battle," he said. "I feel whenever you have to go against your nature, and have to do those things you are not used to, that's a small victory for you. If you keep doing such things again and again, it will only boost your confidence.
"I feel in Australia and then in India especially, the way I batted, I really liked the way I batted, especially in the last Test. I made only 49 runs but I played 150 balls. So for me, personally, that was a big victory because I had to play against my natural game. They were bowling me well outside off and I felt like playing my shots but I curbed those instincts and batted. Like people say the batsman played a bad shot and got out, I didn't play that bad shot. I batted with the required disciplined. Unfortunately, I got out on 49, but I was really happy with my effort.
"Right now, the challenge for me in Test cricket is how many balls I play, not how many runs I score. The challenge for me is to play 100 balls, 150 balls, 200 balls, and even more. I think in terms of balls, runs will come automatically. The challenge for me is to play as many balls as possible. And that will be beneficial for me as well as the team."
Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo