IND vs AFG: Litmus test for India’s young blood in final T20I dress rehearsal as World Cup stands in sight

Image Source : INDIA TV Tilak Varma and Rinku Singh.

IND vs AFG: For 14 months many of these players have been playing without the presence of stalwarts like Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Jasprit Bumrah. Hardik Pandya was the unofficial leader of the T20Is with several new faces coming in a year focused on ODIs as the shortest format played second fiddle. Yashasvi Jaiswal, Rinku Singh, Tilak Varma, and Mukesh Kumar including 11 players have debuted in T20Is since the 2022 World Cup in Australia. So, is this a litmus test for many of those?

India face Afghanistan in a three-match T20I series, which stands as the final T20I dress rehearsal before the big-ticket T20 World Cup 2024 in June. The IPL is obviously there for anyone to prove their case for the big tournament and BCCI will reportedly monitor 30 players during the Indian cash-rich league. But as the squads shall come nearly a month before the World Cup, there would be around half of the league played before the think tank selects the team that will look to bring the glory home. 

The series can be said as a crucial stop with veterans Kohli and Rohit returning as several young guns would be facing litmus tests from now onwards and till the IPL too. The likes of Rinku Singh and Yashasvi Jaiswal have impressed the most. Rinku loves finishing the games, and Jaiswal goes blistering at the start. But they are likely to face stiff competition now with big names in and some first-choice players set to come in who are injured or rested. 

Rinku, Jaiswal automatic pick in Playing XI for World Cup?

A left-handed Rinku has taken the T20 cricket by storm since IPL 2023, where he hit five sixes to do an impossible against Gujarat Titans. An India call-up came for the Ireland series and he showed his worth with the willow in most of the 12 T20Is he has played so far. But is he an automatic pick in Playing XI for World Cup as of now? 

It is quite interesting to see how the Playing XI of that tournament could look like. With Shubman Gill yet to make T20Is his own and Ishan Kishan struggling in the format recently too, Jaiswal has been very soothing to see on the contrary. While Gill and Kishan have scored only 312 runs (26 average) and 143 (14.30 average), Jaiswal has made 430 (33.07) opening the innings. This can make Jaiswal strong contendor for the top spot for the World Cup as of now with his other partners not impressing much. However, things might be little tricky for Rinku. 

If India go with Rohit, Jaiswal/Gill, Kohli and Suryakumar Yadav, Hardik Pandya and a wicket-keeper for the World Cup, there remains only the number 7 vacant spot where Rinku can fill in. But if that happens, the Men in Blue will go with only four specialist bowlers with Hardik being the fifth and needing to bowl four overs per match. This is where things can become tricky for the KKR Southpaw despite 262 runs at 65.50 and a strike rate of 180.68. The likes of Hardik and SKY are yet to return, so is there space for Rinku in the Playing XI for the World Cup? 

Bumrah, Siraj to make things difficult for others

On the bowling front Bumrah and Siraj, are the first two choice bowlers in any format. The way they have proven themselves is hard to overlook. They are currently out of the squad for the Afghanistan series but a return can make it difficult for bowlers playing the format in T20Is. Mukesh Kumar has bowled well at the death and so has Arshdeep. Out of his 8 innings where he bowled in the death overs in T20Is in 2023, he has gone for under nine runs over on 5 times. Arshdeep is the leading wicket-taker at the death in T20Is with 13 scalps to his name in 2023. But when Bumrah comes in, bowlers like Mukesh Kumar and Avesh Khan might find it hard to stay in the team and additionally in the Playing XI.

Even though this series looks less highlighted barring Kohli and Rohit’s return, there are still plenty of reasons to note its importance. This stands as one of the final chances (including IPL) for these youngsters to prove themselves before India come to full strength.