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Rohit or Hardik as captain, and the Kohli question - India's T20 selection dilemmas

The multi-format South Africa tour will keep India busy at the turn of the year, and there will be extra focus on the T20I series with a World Cup months away

Nagraj Gollapudi
30-Nov-2023
Some big decisions need to be made about India's top three  •  ICC/Getty Images

Some big decisions need to be made about India's top three  •  ICC/Getty Images

The India squads for the South Africa tour are set to be picked on November 30 in Delhi. In all, the tour will include three T20Is, three ODIs and two Tests. While the primary focus will be on winning in South Africa, the selection panel led by Ajit Agarkar will also look to address some of the broader selections for the T20 World Cup, which will start in June, immediately after the 2024 IPL.
With India playing only six T20Is between the current home series and the T20 World Cup, ESPNcricinfo looks at some of the tough and significant questions the selectors are likely to deliberate on.

Who leads at T20 WC - Rohit or Pandya?

Since India lost the 2022 World Cup semi-final against England last November, Rohit Sharma has not played T20Is. In his absence, Hardik Pandya presented himself as an eligible successor to Rohit in the shortest format.
However, two things happened at the ODI World Cup to force a rethink on who is best to lead India at the T20 World Cup. First, Hardik hurt his left ankle in the first half of the World Cup while trying to intercept the ball in his follow-through. A ligament tear was not detected but eventually Hardik was ruled out for two months in early November, which means he will miss the South Africa tour.
The second factor was Rohit's explosive starts at the World Cup alongside his aggressive captaincy, which led a ruthless India to 10 straight wins until Australia beat them in the final.
If Rohit is able to display similar explosive intent in T20Is, it has the potential to once again set India up for big scores. Plus, Rohit's T20 leadership acumen has never been in doubt. While Hardik earned his leadership badge by winning the IPL in 2022 with Gujarat Titans, who also made the final last season, he has never led an Indian team that has included the senior quartet of Rohit, Virat Kohli, KL Rahul and Jasprit Bumrah. It doesn't mean he is not capable, but the question would be who is the best captain - to provide clarity of roles as well as take tough calls under pressure.
POLL: Who should be India's captain at T20 WC?
12.3K votes
Rohit Sharma
Hardik Pandya

Does Kohli find a place in T20Is?

Like Rohit, Kohli hasn't played T20Is since the 2022 World Cup. However, he was the fourth-highest run-getter in the 2023 IPL, during which he scored successive centuries that took him past Chris Gayle's tally of most tons in the tournament's history. "A lot of people feel my T20 cricket is declining, but I don't feel like that at all," Kohli had said then. "I feel I am playing my best T20 cricket again."
Despite strident criticism, Kohli, who has been the Player of the Tournament at two T20 World Cups to go with the recent ODI World Cup award, has been adamant about sticking to the anchor-style batting: starting conservatively, pushing the ball into gaps in the middle overs before the explosive finish. It is an approach adopted in the past by Rohit and Rahul, with whom he formed India's top order at the past two editions of the T20 World Cup.
Among the top Indian openers in all T20 cricket, only Yashasvi Jaiswal and Rohit have struck at more than 130 per 100 balls in the powerplay since October 2021. It is worth mentioning here that Shubman Gill displayed much improved intent during this year's IPL, and went at above 150 in the powerplay. In this same period, Kohli's first 10-ball strike rate is 113.33 while Jitesh Sharma (165.54), Jaiswal (150.12) and Suryakumar Yadav (145.50) have shown more early intent.
The question then for the selectors is: does Kohli fit in as the No. 3? One way for that to happen is if both openers go aggressive before Kohli adapts based on the situation. The alternative is to consider a new batter with a faster pick-up.
It could not be confirmed whether Kohli will sit out the white-ball leg of the South Africa series, but even if he does, the selectors need to make their decision quickly. It would be risky to defer the decision to closer to the World Cup. If the selectors and the team management decide to move on, they ought to inform Kohli and also identify the batter they feel can replace him at No. 3.
POLL: Pick Kohli for T20 World Cup?
11.8K votes
Yes!
No

Who should be the two wicketkeeper-batters?

Rahul, Ishan Kishan, Sanju Samson and Jitesh have performed or been part of the T20 squads in the past couple of years to perform that role. While Rahul played a winning hand in India reaching the ODI World Cup final recently, in T20s he has struggled with slower starts, which has stunted his team's momentum. Also, the bigger challenge with Rahul is that he has played mainly as an opener - both for India and in the IPL - for the past several years. At the last T20 World Cup, too, it was Rishabh Pant and Dinesh Karthik who kept wicket.
Since November 2019, Rahul has not batted in the middle order in any T20 game. As a middle-order batter Rahul's numbers read: 1223 runs in 50 innings at an average of 32.18 with a strike rate of 127.66 with two centuries. As an opener, since October 2021, Rahul has made 1802 runs in 49 innings at 41.90 with a strike rate of 132.59.
While his experience and keeping skills are in no doubt, can Rahul fit in to the middle order when there are more power hitters available?
If Pant was fit, he would be a favourite to make the 15. However, the BCCI has not yet given an updated timeline on Pant's return. Even if Pant were to play in the IPL, his keeping and batting form are not guaranteed. Kishan and Jitesh, who are currently playing the T20I series against Australia, are other viable options. Kishan, though, is a top-order batter while Jitesh is a finisher, a role he has performed well for Punjab Kings. Samson, who last featured on the Ireland tour, is again a top-order batter.
POLL: Who should be the two keepers?
10.8K votes
Rahul, Kishan
Kishan, Jitesh
Rahul, Jitesh
Samson has to be there

Who are the options for bowling allrounders (outside of Hardik)?

Rahul Dravid and Rohit have both stressed on the importance of having batting depth balanced by bowling depth. That was one reason Shardul Thakur and Axar Patel were part of the original 15 for the World Cup. Both will again be part of the set of bowling allrounders the selectors will look at along with Ravindra Jadeja, Washington Sundar and Chahar.
While Jadeja and Axar are primarily middle-overs specialists, Chahar and Washington can make an impact in the powerplay. Both of them can also play useful batting cameos. While Washington can bat anywhere, Chahar has the capability to bat No. 8 or 9, which means Indian tail won't be that long.
Who should be the bowling allrounders other than Hardik?
10.1K votes
Jadeja, Axar, Washington
Jadeja, Washington, Chahar
Axar, Washington, Chahar
Jadeja, Axar, Thakur
Jadeja, Washington, Thakur
Axar, Washington, Thakur

Who will be Bumrah's partners?

Jasprit Bumrah and Pandya will be automatic first picks. Both can deliver in all three phases in an innings. However, the squad will need two other fast bowlers. The contenders are Mohammed Siraj, Mohammed Shami, Arshdeep Singh, Prasidh Krishna, Mukesh Kumar, Avesh Khan and Chahar, who was added for the final three T20Is of the ongoing Australia series.
With stats inputs from Shiva Jayaraman

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo