T20 World Cup: Early decision on Virat Kohli-Rohit Sharma, Hardik Pandya's willingness to bowl and banking on left-arm spin helped India end long trophy drought | Cricket News

That one-line promise made by Hardik Pandya to BCCI secretary Jay Shah over the phone proved to be very helpful in helping the national selectors formulate a winning combination for the T20 World Cup to be held in the US and West Indies. The conversation took place in an informal meeting during the IPL in May-June, when Hardik, who captained Mumbai Indians, was not bowling regularly after a long spell out due to injury.

However, the big decision on the main pillars of the team, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli, was taken by the national selectors and other top BCCI officials earlier in the year. It was this initial decision and the determination to stick to their decision despite criticism that resulted in 15 cricketers coming together and winning India a World Cup after more than a decade.

T20 World Cup 2024 Shubman Gill in action. (File)

Before Ajit Agarkar took over as chairman of selectors, it seemed India had moved on from Rohit and Kohli in T20s. Hardik Pandya was being seen as the leader in the shortest format and Shubman Gill as the opener. Agarkar and his committee were not sure about the timing of this T20 change. People in the know speak about Agarkar's conversations with Rohit.

A BCCI official told the Indian Express, “Rohit immediately agreed. He felt he would give it one last shot in the T20 format. Rohit felt the way his batting form is, he could play for another season.”

Festive offer

This time around, Kohli wanted clarity about his T20I future. He would also be given the thumbs up. Kohli's IPL run and the relative batting failure of Shubman Gill and Yashasvi Jaiswal earned the veteran the opener's spot. “With these three crucial pieces in place, the picture was clear. Now we needed to make a plan,” said a selector.

For this, they will rely on statistics from the West Indies, where the final stage of the tournament will be played. The statistics showed that left-arm spinners were very effective in the Caribbean. “We saw a pattern where left-arm spinners had a bigger role in T20s in the Caribbean. On slow pitches, because they attack the stumps more, they always stay in the game,” the source explained.

Learning from history

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The selectors will also use the template adopted by Yash Dhull's Under-19 team to win the World Cup held in the Caribbean in 2021. Left-arm spinner Vicky Ostwal was the highest wicket-taker in India's Under-19 triumph. It also helped that S Sharath, chairman of the junior selection panel that picked the victorious Under-19 team, is now part of the senior set-up.

India have picked four main spinners – Kuldeep Yadav, Axar Patel, Ravindra Jadeja, Yuzvendra Chahal – in the squad. In the World Cup, Kuldeep (10) and Axar (9) played a key role in the team's unbeaten run. “One thing we are very happy with is the spin formula. Of course, we didn't have an offspinner who could turn the ball, but in Kuldeep we had a bowler who could make the ball go to right-handed batsmen. Before the T20 World Cup, we were sure that left-arm spinners would dominate the second half of the tournament,” one of the selectors said.

India also had to pick batsmen who could play spin well. Sharma, Kohli, Pandya and Suryakumar Yadav were among the regulars and Jadeja and Axar were in the lower order, so now the decision-makers had to decide on a wicketkeeper and an additional batsman. And for these two slots, India wanted role-specific players which all successful T20 teams around the world have had.

T20 World Cup Shivam Dube of India plays a shot during the ICC Men's T20 World Cup Final cricket match between India and South Africa at Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados, Saturday, June 29, 2024. AP/PTI

Shivam Dube has been picked as a spin-hitter who can also bowl a few overs if needed. Given Pandya's fitness issues, India should have been wary of a situation where he suddenly breaks down mid-tournament – like it happened in the 50-over World Cup – and his absence could upset the team's balance.

“Rohit stressed on role-specific players as in the IPL, some players were playing a particular role. But when it came to India, the situation was not the same. They were either batting out of their position or were not given the right role,” the source said.

And for the crucial wicketkeeper slot, the selectors will give multiple left-right options and most importantly, they will give options who can be flexible in terms of their batting. Rishabh Pant and Sanju Samson offer that option and have been able to deliver stellar performances whenever their team needed them to.

Hence, a clear vision, reliance on statistics and selection as per the circumstances played a key role in ending India's long wait for major ICC medals.

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