What India's T20 World Cup hopefuls need to do in the IPL

Sanju Samson, Navdeep Saini, Ishan Kishan, Kuldeep Yadav, R Ashwin and others must impress the selectors ahead of the big event in October-November

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
Sanju Samson can hit the ball hard, but he needs to consistently put up valuable scores if he wants India's selectors to take notice  •  BCCI

Sanju Samson can hit the ball hard, but he needs to consistently put up valuable scores if he wants India's selectors to take notice  •  BCCI

The impressive debuts of Ishan Kishan and Suryakumar Yadav in T20Is and Krunal Pandya and Prasidh Krishna in ODIs against England have proved the match-readiness of India's young talent in international cricket. Thanks to the IPL and the BCCI's robust India A programme, the national side has an embarrassment of riches and multiple options for every position - all healthy signs for the selectors in a T20 World Cup year.
As such, the IPL could have a massive influence on the make-up of India's final squad for the tournament at home in October-November. But for several players, it will be particularly important, either because they have been left out of the India squad recently or haven't been able to consistently make the playing XI.

Shikhar Dhawan

What the selectors might look for: powerplay game
Dhawan's conservative approach early in the innings has been an issue in the past, but at the 2020 IPL, he struck at 139.13 in the first six overs - the fifth best among batsmen who played a minimum of 50 balls. Overall, his 618 runs in 17 innings - second best in the tournament behind KL Rahul - came at a strike rate of 144.73. None of the four other Indian batsmen at the Capitals who aggregated over 200 runs in the season got their runs at a faster rate. With Shreyas Iyer missing the 2021 IPL because of a shoulder injury, Dhawan will have a bigger role to play if the Capitals are to build on their runners-up finish last season. At 35, he is among the oldest contenders for a T20 World Cup spot. Having been left out of four of the five T20Is against England, he will want to make the most of the long stretch at the top of the order in the IPL to keep himself in contention.

Sanju Samson

What the selectors might look for: consistency
While he has timing and fierce ball-striking going for him, inconsistency hasn't helped Samson's cause. His highest score in six T20I outings for India in 2020 was 23, which was perhaps why he was overlooked for the series against England. But as the Rajasthan Royals captain this season, he will get a long run of matches to prove himself. Samson hasn't played a lot of competitive cricket lately, and when he did, he managed only one half-century in five matches for Kerala in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy in January. In the 2020 IPL he started with two match-winning half-centuries before tailing off mid-season, although he still finished as the Royals' top scorer. This season the selectors will be looking for more consistency and impactful knocks from Samson.

Ishan Kishan and Suryakumar Yadav

What the selectors could look for: middle-overs acceleration
Both batsmen are products of Mumbai Indians' robust scouting system. Kishan showed he was not afraid of the big stage when he smacked a match-winning half-century on T20I debut. He is a back-up keeping option and can bat anywhere in the top five. No one hit more sixes than Kishan at the 2020 IPL - a testament to his improved power game. His ability to go after the bowling from the get go makes him a fearsome prospect for the opposition.
Yadav too has taken the IPL route to get a roaring start in international cricket. He is a 360-degree player who can drop anchor and play the enforcer at the same time. Over the years, he has become inventive with his strokeplay. His first scoring shot for India was a one-footed hook for six off Jofra Archer. He has scored 400-plus runs in the last three IPL seasons, two of which Mumbai won. Another good IPL could strengthen his place in the India side. However, it's also possible that Kishan and Yadav could be competing for the same spot in the XI.

R Ashwin

What the selectors might look for: powerplay wickets and control
Ashwin is itching for an opportunity in white-ball cricket again after being dropped entirely from the set-up in 2017, but he isn't fretting over it. He says this has helped him become calmer and focus on red-ball excellence. But India aren't brimming with spin options in white-ball cricket at the moment; they went into the ODI series decider against England without a front-line spinner. Virat Kohli was testy when asked about Ashwin's absence, insisting Washington Sundar remains India's preferred offspiner, but it isn't unusual for India to have two similar-style bowlers in the squad. Ashwin and Harbhajan Singh were both part of the 2016 T20 World Cup side. Ashwin has been a key member of the Delhi Capitals think tank and his 13 wickets at an economy of 7.66 in 15 games at the 2020 IPL were more than respectable. His seven wickets in the powerplay were the most by a spinner in the season, ahead of Axar Patel and Washington, and joint fifth overall. Can he force his way back into white-ball mix once again?

Kuldeep Yadav and Rahul Chahar

What the selectors might look for: wristspin options
Left-arm wristspinner Yadav has spent more time on the bench than in the middle since 2019, not only losing his spot in the India XI but also at the Kolkata Knight Riders, a franchise he has been part of since 2014. He managed only four wickets in nine innings in the 2019 IPL and one wicket in four in the 2020 IPL. In India's 2020-21 season he took three wickets in four innings (three ODIs and a Test) and admitted he was confused about what lengths to bowl against England. Of all the players in this article, he is one who desperately needs a big IPL season to be in contention for that World Cup berth.
Meanwhile, legspinner Chahar's career has taken a different trajectory. For two seasons now, he has been the Mumbai Indians' lead spinner, which, given he is 21, is a remarkable distinction. In the 2019 IPL he picked up 13 wickets in as many games, at an economy of 6.55. He followed it with 15 in 15 (econ of 8.16) in 2020. It's clear that Chahar is a strike bowler; not a traditional leggie who gives it a rip but one who relies on change in length, angles, and bounce, like Afghanistan's Rashid Khan. Getting rid of the fear of being hit, Chahar says, has contributed immensely to his improved mindset. He has also shown the ability to bowl in different phases of an innings. Yuzvendra Chahal, India's senior legspinner, has had an indifferent run lately, his T20I economy of 9.14 being the second worst among those who have bowled 50 or more overs since the start of 2019. And he has taken only 18 wickets in 21 T20Is in that period. While there may not be an immediate threat to Chahal's place in the India squad, a strong performance from Chahar will keep Chahal on his toes and give the selectors another healthy selection dilemma.

Navdeep Saini

What the selectors might look for: death bowling
Raw pace, the ability to hustle batsmen with the short ball, and getting it to swing both ways make Saini a key component of the Royal Challengers Bangalore attack. But to make the step up to become a T20I regular and be in World Cup contention, he needs to build on his IPL gains from 2020, where he carried the team's bowling alongside Chahal, Mohammed Siraj and Chris Morris. He faces stiff competition from other India quick bowlers like T Natarajan and Shardul Thakur, who is an all-round option. For long now, RCB have identified death bowling as an area of concern. If Saini can deliver telling spells and win them games to possibly qualify for the knockouts and beyond, he has an excellent chance of making the World Cup longlist.

Deepak Chahar

What the selectors might look for: powerplay wickets and death bowling
He bowls the tough overs economically, and has pace and swing. Chahar has been on the periphery of India's white-ball squads since 2019. He has taken nine wickets in the powerplay overs at an economy of 7.14 in 13 games for India. His corresponding figures in the IPL are 33 wickets at 7.58 in 48 innings for the Chennai Super Kings. Captain MS Dhoni has often preferred to give Chahar three overs in this phase because of his impressive economy. For India, he is ideally seen as a like-for-like replacement for Bhuvneshwar Kumar, but given the senior bowler's spate of recent injuries, Chahar can always come in as a back-up.

Rahul Tewatia

What the selectors might look for: all-round back-up
Tewatia was part of the T20I squad against England but did not get a game. He is an explosive lower-order batsman who can also bowl two or three overs of handy legspin, offering all-round skills like the Pandya brothers do. Tewatia is best remembered for walloping Sheldon Cottrell for five consecutive sixes to turn around an impossible chase for the Rajasthan Royals in Sharjah last season. He is often praised for his street-smart approach, and he will do well to show some of that for the Royals in what could be an audition for a T20 World Cup berth.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo