x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Selection dilemmas for India at World Twenty20

Where do India go from here? You cannot really envisage Pathan opening against the pace of Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc.

Irfan Pathan was used as a makeshift opener during India's win over England at the World Twenty20.
Irfan Pathan was used as a makeshift opener during India's win over England at the World Twenty20.

India start their Super Eights campaign at the World Twenty20 on September 28, against an Australian team that is far more of a threat than their No 8 ranking suggests.

But ahead of that game and contests against Pakistan (most probably) and South Africa, no one is any closer to figuring out what India's best XI is.

For the match against England, with both teams already assured of progression, India rested Virender Sehwag, Zaheer Khan and R Ashwin, bringing in three bowlers instead - Harbhajan Singh, Piyush Chawla and Ashok Dinda.

On a drier surface, Harbhajan and Chawla befuddled England's top and middle order, without doing enough to suggest that Ashwin's position as first-choice spinner was under threat.

Some of the changes will be hard to reverse.

Sehwag averages 21.75 in Twenty20 internationals, and was recalled to the squad after a two-year absence in Australia earlier this year.

His combination with Gautam Gambhir was once one of the most feared in the international game. Over the past 18 months, however, their productivity has declined steadily.

But with no other specialist opening batsman in the squad, Sehwag being sidelined would mean taking a chance with a makeshift opener such as Irfan Pathan.

Zaheer, such an integral part of India's rise up the Test rankings and the run to the World Cup in 2011, has been another indifferent performer in the short format.

He concedes nearly eight an over and the last time he really influenced a game was at the World Twenty20 in 2009. Unfortunately, it was Ireland and not one of the big boys that provided the opposition.

Even if Zaheer sits out the remaining games though, concerns remain about the pace bowling.

When there's no movement in the air or off the pitch, Irfan Pathan and L Balaji are easy pickings for top batsmen, especially since neither really gives the speed-gun a workout.

Dinda bounds in and tries to bounce people out without having the pace to do so. The feeling persists that India are just a David Warner or Richard Levi assault from being found out.

Impressive bowling displays from Harbhajan and Chawla also raise questions about the team balance.

For so long, India have depended on a seven-batsmen strategy in limited-overs cricket.

But with Ashwin certain to return, it is hard to see how the extra batsman can be accommodated.

In the past, India have utilised the likes of Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma and Yuvraj Singh to fill in for a few overs, but against the stronger sides that strategy has seldom worked.

Five years of the Indian Premier League have not really helped India settle on a combination. In fact, their record on the global stage since the tournament began has been positively dismal.

In 2009 and 2010, they lost every single Super Eights game after easing through the group stage. Apart from a victory in the league phase against South Africa in 2010, the success against England was the first against a top side since 2007.

Where do India go from here? You cannot really envisage Pathan opening against the pace of Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc.

If Sehwag does sit out, it might make more sense to let the in-form Virat Kohli take advantage of the fielding restrictions. If they don't want to risk Kohli, then Rohit could be used to provide early impetus.

Whether India go far in the tournament depends largely on the conditions as well.

On the quicker surfaces that were glimpsed in the opening days of the tournament, especially in Hambantota, the team balance and lack of potent pace left them vulnerable.

But if the pitches settle down to play as it did at the Premadasa last night, then India will be really hard to beat. You can't really thank the planning for that though.

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