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T20 World Cup squad: Decoding Dhoni as mentor and India’s best team

India announced its T20 World Cup squad and there are multiple factors to be decoded - from MS Dhoni's role as mentor to five spinning options.

Dhoni will mentor Team India in the T20 World Cup

India announced its T20 World Cup squad last night and it is safe to say, the 15-member squad has instigated multiple conversations. The ICC tournament is scheduled to be held in October this year in the UAE and it will be the first T20 World Cup since 2016.

In fact, much like most sporting events scheduled for 2020, the T20 World Cup is happening a year later after India was unable to host it owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. This edition of the tournament will be unique given that it will take place in the same venue as the remainder of the previously suspended IPL 2021 with a very short turnover time between the two T20 events.

This means that the pitches would have gone through some wear and tear. And as was evident from IPL 2020 as the tournament advanced, spinners started playing dominant roles on the progressively slower surfaces. This thought must have dominated the selectors’ minds when they picked India’s T20 World Cup squad as the contingent contains as many as five spin bowling options.

T20 World Cup squad: Virat Kohli (c), Rohit Sharma (VC), KL Rahul, Suryakumar Yadav, Rishabh Pant (WK), Ishan Kishan (WK), Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Rahul Chahar, R Ashwin, Axar Patel, Varun Chakravarthy, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and Mohammed Shami.

The three reserve players selected are Shreyas Iyer, Shardul Thakur and Deepak Chahar. As one can already ascertain, the selection and non-selection of certain players has led to a few debates. However, the biggest talking point emerging from the announcements was that of MS Dhoni, who will mentor the team in the upcoming tournament.

T20 World Cup squad – MS Dhoni as mentor

MS Dhoni will be the mentor for India in the T20 World Cup

It is understandable why Dhoni’s announcement as mentor has been received with equal portions of shock and happiness. The slightest knowledge of Dhoni the person is enough to convince that he is elusive off the cricket field. In fact, Dhoni is a bit like Lionel Messi is in football. Both parties play the game and are then very difficult to find as they keep their life off the field very private.

Dhoni, now retired from international cricket, keeps to himself between IPLs with no public appearances and very little social media presence. He also harbours little to no intention of coaching the Indian team. Hence, it must be said that the BCCI managed to pull of a major coup in convincing the former India captain to remain in UAE following the conclusion of the IPL and mentor the Indian T20 World Cup squad.

Dhoni is the only captain in world cricket to have won all three ICC tournaments and had led an unfancied Indian team to the title in the inaugural edition of the tournament in 2007. He adds undeniable tactical nous to the Indian team in conditions that are as close to his forte as one could imagine. When the ball turns, there is no better leader to have than Dhoni. And going by India’s team selection, they expect the pitches to be slow and aid the spinners.

Twitter was rejoicing the return of Dhoni as mentor in India’s T20 World Cups quad

However, one must also take into consideration Dhoni’s personality. Even when he was captain, Dhoni never really believed in team meetings and harboured a very different environment. It thus remains to be seen how much and what impact he will have in this vocal team. It will also be interesting to see who initiated the need for Dhoni to be with the team.

Captain Kohli has always been a very vocal advocate of Dhoni’s leadership and there is undeniable mutual respect between the two contrasting personalities. Hence, if all things fall into place, this could be the game changing selection ahead of the tournament.

T20 World Cup squad – disappointment for Chahal and five spinners

Rahul Chahar has made the cut ahead of Chahal in the T20 World Cup squad

If you are Yuzvendra Chahal, how must you be feeling. The leg spinner is India’s leading wicket taker in T20 cricket and yet, with five spinners in the T20 World Cup squad, finds himself outside the selection.

Chahal was once considered an absolute shoo-in as India’s lead spinner and despite having gone through some difficult times, it seemed, he was returning to his best. He is also an experienced customer with visible gusto and street smarts having made a name for himself in the unforgiving small ground of Chinnaswamy.

But, as one can see, there was place for only one leg spinner and that spot went to a very deserving Rahul Chahar. A youngster, Chahar has proven himself in the IPL and was also a stand out in the tour to Sri Lanka which sealed his place in the squad.

Axar Patel is the surprise pick in India’s T20 World Cup squad

Axar Patel, however, is the left field choice and given India already possess Ravindra Jadeja, who has similar skill sets, is a surprise pick. An extra seamer, one felt, would have been picked in the 15 instead. Both, Shardul Thakur and Deepak Chahar, were in the running for that slot and are players of a similar profile – while bowling is their primary skill, can bat at number 8 and possess hitting ability.

India has gone in with only three seamers which suggests that Hardik Pandya is ready to contribute with the ball and will play the role of the third pacer. Thus, only one between Bhuvneshwar and Shami will make the final eleven with Bumrah being a certainty.

T20 World Cup squad – life comes full circle for Ashwin

Ashwin celebrates with Kohl

The last few weeks has not been the best for Ashwin. He is yet to make the team in the ongoing Test series between India and England, despite clamours from the watching world. Whether he should play or not is the management’s call which depends on what they feel is the best combination to win a game.

However, it is undeniable that a sense of forlorn surrounded his non-selection as visuals of the off spinner sitting alone in the stands listening to commentary on an audio device during the Oval Test was flashed by the broadcasters. Ashwin is the best red ball spinner in the world currently and given, at that time, Test cricket was the only format he was playing, the forlorn was understandable.

Ashwin posted this picture on Twitter after his return to the white ball squad

Life, though, finds various ways of surprising people. And for Ashwin, it came a full circle, as for the first time in four years, the bowling all rounder found himself in India’s white ball squad. The selection in the ICC T20 World Cup squad must have been doubly fulfilling as he was dropped following India’s defeat in an ICC tournament final in 2017.

And, for both Ashwin and Jadeja, who were replaced by Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav in 2017, four years on, the replacements have been replaced. That also means, the road never really ends for anyone and the wrist spinning duo must take heart from that.

T20 World Cup squad – the playing 11

Indian team during England’s visit earlier this year

As Sunil Gavaskar says, all debates must come to a halt when the team is announced. The job of all stakeholders hence is to support their national team. The T20 World Cup squad is now selected and thus, the natural next step is to hazard a guess as to what the playing 11 will be.

Captain Kohli and vice captain Rohit Sharma pick themselves. So do Bumrah, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja and Rishabh Pant. Perhaps even KL Rahul depending on whether Kohli plays at number 3 or opens the batting. Suryakumar Yadav is India’s middle order option as Shreyas Iyer, hard done by an untimely injury, missed the cut.

It is imperative that someone in the top three plays without caution. And perhaps India will set Rahul free as the opener with Kohli playing the anchor role. Ishan Kishan is the back up option in case India want a left hander at the top who can bat freely.

Three spinners and three pacers including Jadeja and Pandya will be India’s way to go

Bhuvneshwar will likely be the second seamer with mystery spinner Varun Chakravarthy rotating with Rahul Chahar as one of the spinners. Chakravarthy was first selected in the Indian team, which he failed to make because of injury, following his performances in the UAE in IPL 2020. And given his breed and that is relatively unexposed to the world, could start ahead of the wrist spinner.

R Ashwin should start at number 8 given he will reprise Washington Sundar’s role – another unfortunate absentee owing to an injury.

T20 World Cup squad predicted playing 11: KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Surykumar Yadav, Rishabh Pant (WK), Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, and Varun Chakravarthy.