When Rishabh Pant walked out to Old Trafford during the semi-final of a tense chase against New Zealand in the ICC World Cup 2019, there were many who expected a game-changing knock from the youngster. Pant failed to impress, walking back to the pavilion for just 32, sparking a wave of criticism. Brickbats were hurled at the 22-year-old for his lackluster knock. However, a few noted that the cricketer had batted only 8 times for India in Odis over a career spanning two years.
Indian cricket has always been a staunch believer in sticking to a set combination. Chopping and changing in personnel is an attribute shunned even if it comes at the cost of burnout and fatigue. Emerging cricketers can aspire for a spot in the India-A team on the back of strong domestic performances but there is an invisible barrier which separates them and a spot in the national team. The few who are lucky enough to earn a spot in the national squad, usually find themselves relegated to the bench. Sanju Samson's exclusion from the playing 11 for the T20I series against West Indies, despite sublime performances is a recent example of this trend.
A few optimists have expressed faith in a transformation, with regard to the team management's stance towards emerging players following the high-profile defeat against New Zealand, where the futility of a negative approach was ruthlessly exposed. However, it is certainly alarming to note Indian cricket's staunch refusal to learn from past errors, as evident from the full-strength squad fielded for a fairly one-sided T20I series against Sri Lanka.
India: Virat Kohli (c), Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Shivam Dube, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Navdeep Saini, Shardul Thakur, Manish Pandey, Washington Sundar, Sanju Samson.
The visitors were thrashed 3-0 in the recently concluded T20I series against Australia, with the players unable to make their presence felt. Sri Lanka had also struggled to a major extent in the ICC World Cup 2019, with a lot of critics highlighting their lack of preparation and gulf in quality. This series would have been the perfect opportunity for the Indian team to grant reasonable exposure to quality performers like Mayank Agarwal, Surya Kumar Yadav, Krunal Pandya, Shubman Gill without much risk involved. It could also have presented players like Virat Kohli, Ravindra Jadeja, Rishabh Pant with an opportunity to recharge following an intense series against the West Indies. A decent break would have also helped the trio relax and get into the right mindset ahead of an important series against Australia, with a long-drawn away tour of New Zealand set to follow.
Suryakumar Yadav has been a consistent performer in the domestic T20 circuit, with excellent performances in the shortest format for the Mumbai Indians (IPL). Surya finished as the third highest run-scorer for Mumbai in the 2019-20 edition of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, scoring 392 runs in 11 matches at an average of 56.
|Surya Kumar Yadav||Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy (2019-20)|
The cricketer would have been a suitable replacement for Rohit Sharma who has been rested for the Sri Lanka series, at the top of the order. Veteran spinner Harbhajan Singh has been a staunch supporter and questioned his non-inclusion into the Indian team despite consistent performances through thick and thin.
Mayank Agarwal had an excellent campaign in 2019 with the cricketer scoring runs in an effortless fashion. Mayank's ability to smash the ball to all parts of the ground has never been under question, having smashed sixes for fun even in the longest format. The opener's inclusion in the squad would have certainly been a wise decision considering his capabilities and talent.
|Mayank Agarwal||Tests (2019)|
Shubman Gill has gone from strength to strength over the years with his fine gameplay and excellent stroke play. The cricketer is considered the future of Indian cricket, and a long-term prospect in all formats of the game at the top of the order. A T20I call up for Gill would have further broadened his horizons with regard to the demands of international cricket.
All-rounder Hardik Pandya has struggled with injuries in recent times, with fellow all-rounders Shivam Dube, Vijay Shankar yet to prove themselves in the shortest format. In such a scenario, Krunal who can smash the ball to all parts of the ground as well as make his presence felt with clever variations and off-cutters, would have been a suitable addition to the squad as a replacement for Ravindra Jadeja.
As they say, a smart man is one who learns from his mistakes and improves upon them. One can only wait and watch if Team India goes on to rue this decision, considering the intense upcoming World T20.