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Gambhir unsure if Kohli, Rohit and Rahul fit in 2024 T20 World Cup plans

Sangakkara, meanwhile, hopes India give Samson a longer rope to prove himself

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
Gautam Gambhir believes there is nothing wrong in India's T20 team moving on from senior players like Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Virat Kohli as long as there is clear communication between the players and the management.
India are due to face Sri Lanka in three T20Is starting January 3. For now, all indications are that Kohli and Rahul have been rested for that series, while Rohit is believed to need a little more time to fully recover from a finger injury he sustained three weeks ago in Bangladesh. Senior fast bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar also finds himself out of favour. With so many people out, Hardik Pandya, who was widely tipped to get the job anyway, has been named India's interim T20 captain with Suryakumar Yadav as his deputy.
"There should be clarity," Gambhir, the former India batter, told ESPNcricinfo during an interaction facilitated by Star Sports on Thursday. "There should be good communication between the selectors and these players. If the selectors have decided to look beyond these guys, so be it. I think a lot of countries have done that.
"We make too much of a hue and cry when the selectors and management look beyond certain individuals. Ultimately, it's not about the individuals, but how you want to go about your plans for the next [T20] World Cup [in 2024], because you want to go in there and win it. If these guys haven't been able to achieve that, I think you never know. People like Suryakumar, the younger generation can go on to achieve that dream."
Gambhir stressed the need to have clear plans in place for the 2024 T20 World Cup, and right now, he is finding it hard to see Rohit, Kohli and Rahul fitting into those plans.
"Personally, if you ask me, it looks tough," Gambhir said. "People like Suryakumar Yadav, Ishan Kishan should all be in the mix. Hardik Pandya is there, I'd like to try to get guys like Prithvi Shaw, Rahul Tripathi and Sanju Samson into the mix. They can play fearless cricket.
"We've spoken so much about the template and stuff going into the previous [T20] World Cup, that we want to play at a certain template, that we want to play aggressive cricket, but when it came to a crunch game [semi-final against England], all that template went out of the window.
"Probably the new generation of cricketers might be able to achieve that template and play the T20 cricket everyone wants India to play. So I feel, if these guys continue to do well in the opportunities they get, it will be difficult for the rest of the the guys who have been rested or probably been dropped."
Gambhir: Pant should just focus on Test cricket
There are also some questions around Rishabh Pant, who hasn't been picked for both the T20Is and ODIs against Sri Lanka. No reason has been specified for his absence, although it is believed he needs some time at the National Cricket Academy to prepare for the four-Test series against Australia.
For much of India's build-up to the last T20 World Cup, the team management had preferred Dinesh Karthik as first-choice wicketkeeper. Pant played only two games in the tournament, including the semi-final, scoring 3 and 6.
The numbers don't present any better when taken over a longer period of time either. In all T20Is since 2021, Pant has 577 runs in 31 innings at an average of 24.04 and strike rate of 129.95 with one half-century. Given this, Gambhir feels Pant would be better off just focusing on his Test match skills.
"First of all, the selectors need to be very clear if he's been rested or dropped," Gambhir said. "According to me, he [must have been] dropped from white-ball cricket. There has never been enough clarity. This word called 'rest' is great to have; it wasn't there when we were playing. Either we were dropped or selected.
"Rishabh had got his opportunities in white-ball cricket and hasn't been able to grab it, and someone else like Ishan Kishan has been able to grab it. So probably now he should just focus on red-ball cricket, and if his turn comes, whenever he gets that opportunity, try and grab it.
"I don't see that happening in the near future, if Ishan continues to play the way he's playing. Because we keep talking about that template, but people like Prithvi Shaw, Ishan Kishan, Suryakumar Yadav - that template comes to them naturally.
"Everyone wants to see Indian cricket more courageous and fearless. These guys can play in a natural way. Rishabh has got that opportunity, so he can't blame or complain. He's got the opportunity to open, bat at 3-4-5-6, the management has given him every opportunity to succeed in white-ball cricket, but he hasn't been able to. I think he can concentrate on red-ball cricket, which is not bad for Rishabh because at least his entire focus is on his keeping and how he can bat at No. 5 or 6 in Test cricket."
Sangakkara: Hope India can give Samson an extended run
The Sri Lanka T20Is may also give Samson a chance to establish himself in the Indian team. Since his debut in 2015, he's had no more than three games back-to-back, and in 16 T20Is, he's managed just one half-century, a 42-ball 77 against Ireland in Malahide in June 2022. This is in sharp contrast to the way he plays in the IPL, where he is the sixth-highest run-getter over the last three years.
Kumar Sangakkara, who works closely with Samson at Rajasthan Royals, believes India may be losing out on Samson's best years, but now is an opportunity to correct that.
"He's got great skill," Sangakkara said. "The nature of selection in international cricket is that you have to be ready to play out of position. You have to be flexible and Sanju has been. What Sanju has to do is control what he does in the middle when he gets a chance. I've had lots of conversations with him. He takes a lot of pride in preparation and to play for India. I just hope they can give him a nice, extended run so that he can settle in and not have the nagging suspicion that he may be dropped for the next match or the next series. That's a tough place to be in for him or for anyone."

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo