Game-time for Arshdeep, Jadeja vs Axar, and other questions for India

With the T20 World Cup set to begin in October, India will look to identify their best XI in England

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
In a little over 48 hours after losing the Edgbaston Test, India will begin the white-ball leg of their England tour with the first of the three-match T20I series in Southampton. Rahul Dravid, the head coach, touched upon little time to learn lessons in defeat because of how quickly the caravan rolls, but it's a reality they seem to have made peace with.
An extended squad has already been in preparation for the series, having played two warm-up fixtures against Derbyshire and Northamptonshire after their short tour of Ireland. VVS Laxman will helm the squad, at least for the series opener, before Dravid takes over once again.
During the home series against South Africa, Dravid had said, in jest, that, "working with six captains in eight months wasn't the plan when I started." He wouldn't have to worry about that now - Rohit Sharma has recovered from Covid-19 and is fit to play in the series opener. The other senior players will link up with the squad ahead of the second T20I at Edgbaston.
India have had a regular diet of T20I cricket since their disappointing run at last year's World Cup in UAE. They have secured series wins over New Zealand, West Indies and Sri Lanka (all at home) between November and March. In June, post a lengthy IPL 2022, they came back from 0-2 down to square the T20I series against South Africa 2-2 before the decider was washed out. Yet, it's England that could possibly provide the biggest challenge in their build-up to this year's World Cup in Australia in October-November.
India's batting dynamics
India haven't had a 'go big or go home' approach to T20I batting, but they have tried to rework their powerplay template since their group-stage exit at the last T20 World Cup. India's run rate of 8.61 in the first six overs is the highest among teams who have played at least five or more completed T20Is since November 2021.
That said, the key to India's batting transformation will be to identify their first XI for the World Cup quickly. While the first T20I may not challenge India's think-tank much, given the senior players have been rested, they will have a chance to do that from the second T20I onwards.
With KL Rahul likely to be on the sidelines at least until September, India may not have the luxury of playing their first-choice openers until the end of their runway to the World Cup. This could mean another opportunity for Ishan Kishan to prove himself if the team management believes he's the back-up opener. Rohit, meanwhile, will have to hit the ground running after a poor IPL and run-ins with injuries and Covid-19.
Clarity there would also allow Virat Kohli a settled spot at No.3, where he gets a straight run of matches in the lead-up to the T20 World Cup. A temporary workaround of having him open, to allow all of Rishabh Pant, Suryakumar Yadav and Dinesh Karthik play, may not solve the team management's objective of identifying their best XI. This could mean having to identify which two among Suryakumar and Pant make the cut, given Hardik Pandya and Karthik are likely to slot into the lower-middle order. The stifling competition could consign Shreyas Iyer and Deepak Hooda to the reserves despite creditable performances lately.
Tacking the death overs
Jasprit Bumrah and Harshal Patel may be shoo-ins for the end overs, but the first T20I could give India an opportunity to explore other options. Left-arm seamer Arshdeep Singh has been phenomenal for Punjab Kings, even if he may not feature in the top 30 of IPL 2022's top wicket-takers. He managed only ten wickets in 14 games, but like Karthik, he plays a specific role.
Arshdeep's death-overs economy rate of 8.50 since IPL 2021 is the second best among 22 bowlers who have bowled at least 15 overs. Bumrah tops the list. In this IPL season, Arshdeep's death economy of 7.58 was second only to Bumrah's 7.38. Arshdeep is the only bowler from the Ireland tour party to have not got a game yet. Southampton could be an opportunity to have a look at his skills against the likes of Jos Buttler, Liam Livingstone, Moeen Ali and Jason Roy. Unlike Harshal, Arshdeep also has more experience of bowling in the powerplay, if required.
The Jadeja question
Ravindra Jadeja's batting has been on an upswing in the recent past. Since IPL 2020, he has struck his 575 runs at 147. In the same period, his death-overs striker rate of 199.60 is the fourth best. The problem, though, is his bowling seems to have tailed off. Since IPL 2020, he has managed all of 24 wickets in 40 matches at an economy rate of 7.70. In his absence, Axar Patel has been given an extended run on the back of his IPL success for Delhi Capitals. While Axar's 2022 numbers pale in comparison to his stats from 2021 - 15 wickets in 12 matches at an economy of 6.65 - it will be interesting to see if Jadeja gets the first opportunity to reclaim his place.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo