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Will Pant continue to open in Rahul's absence?

Also, Shreyas Iyer or Deepak Hooda? Ravindra Jadeja or Axar Patel? A look at the questions India face ahead of the T20I series

Deivarayan Muthu
Rishabh Pant, sent to open, took on the English bowling early in the innings, England vs India, 2nd men's T20I, Birmingham, July 9, 2022

Will Rishabh Pant open the innings again?  •  Getty Images

Just a day after the three-match ODI series against West Indies ends, India will face Nicholas Pooran's men in a five-match T20I series in the Caribbean and USA. Rohit Sharma is back, to take over the captaincy from Shikhar Dhawan, as are Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya.
The absence of Yuzvendra Chahal and Jasprit Bumrah, though, for the T20I leg of the tour, gives India's second line of bowlers an opportunity to prove themselves in the lead-up to the T20 World Cup. Here are some big questions for India to ponder over going into the series.
Will Pant continue to open with Rohit?
Pant had opened the batting along with Rohit in India's last two T20Is, scoring 1 and 26 in Nottingham and Birmingham respectively. India's original plan for the West Indies T20Is was to reunite Rahul with Rohit at the top, but Rahul is still recovering from Covid-19 and will miss the T20I leg of the tour as well.
In the absence of Rahul, Pant could feature at the top once again, a role he had played more regularly under Rahul Dravid when they were both part of the India Under-19 set-up. Ishan Kishan, who is being groomed as the back-up opener and wicketkeeper, is the other option for India.
Iyer vs Hooda
Deepak Hooda's sprightly batting and part-time offspin could potentially help him jump ahead of Shreyas Iyer and slot into a middle order that includes Suryakumar Yadav, Hardik and Dinesh Karthik.
Iyer's vulnerability against the short ball is well-established while Hooda, like Suryakumar, is a more versatile batter against both pace and spin. Hooda could also bat at the top, if needed, and his offspin could be matched up with West Indies' left-handers, if India can't fit R Ashwin into their XI.
Jadeja vs Axar
A fit-again Ravindra Jadeja is currently India's first-choice spin-bowling allrounder across formats, but Axar Patel has somewhat narrowed the gap between Jadeja and himself in white-ball cricket, with his heroics in the second ODI against West Indies. If India choose to manage Jadeja, who has been troubled by injuries in the recent past, Axar is a readymade like-for-like replacement.
Jadeja's bowling, though, could be tested by the left-hand quartet of Kyle Mayers, Pooran, Shimron Hetmyer and Akeal Hosein. Against left-hand batters since the start of 2020, Jadeja has conceded 9.13 runs an over and picked up just eight wickets at a strike rate of 39. Axar has much better numbers against left-handers during this period: an economy rate of 8.10 to go with 12 wickets at a strike rate of 20.
What could India's spin attack look like?
In the absence of Chahal, Ravi Bishnoi, who is more of a wrong 'un specialist than a traditional legspinner, or a fit-again Kuldeep Yadav could get a look-in. During the T20Is at home against West Indies earlier this year, Bishnoi took three wickets in as many games at an economy rate of 6.33. As for Kuldeep, he showed signs of his best during his IPL stint with Delhi Capitals, dominating the league along with Chahal.
Kuldeep suffered a hand injury before the South Africa T20Is, but has recovered since, and could play his first T20I in almost six months. Ashwin is another option, and with Washington Sundar asked to prove his form and fitness in county cricket, he is likely to get his chance at some point on this tour.
Who after Harshal Patel and Bhuvneshwar Kumar?
Avesh Khan or Arshdeep Singh? Avesh had leaked runs both in Nottingham and then in Port of Spain, on his ODI debut, earlier this week. If recent form is anything to go by, India might go with Arshdeep who had kicked off his T20I career with a maiden on his way to figures of 2 for 18 in Southampton last month.
Arshdeep had also swung the new ball and nailed his yorkers with the old one during the tour games in England. And in IPL 2022, Arshdeep had bowled the most yorkers (38) - Bumrah also bowled as many - to Avesh's 18. With Bumrah being rested, this could well be Arshdeep's chance to impress further in T20Is.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo