The Men in Blue are in the final phase of their preparations to host Australia for three Twenty20 internationals, followed by three games against South Africa. Both are quality teams, and just the right challenge for the 2007 T20 World Cup winners, desperately looking to win the title a second time around.
Skipper Rohit Sharma is going in with full-strength squad at his disposal in the matches against Australia. There was a bit of a setback, with seamer Mohammed Shami, who was part of this squad, but is a reserve player for the T20 WC in Australia in October, testing positive for Covid-19. He has been replaced by Umesh Yadav, who was at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru, and joined the team on Sunday. Yadav is not in the reserve for the T20 WC.
Team India had an intense practice session on Sunday under the watchful eyes of coaches Rahul Dravid and Vikram Rathour. The big talk was expectedly around former skipper Virat Kohli being promoted as the opener in the World Cup given K.L. Rahul's struggles with the bat. However, Sharma batted strongly for Rahul, saying he would be the main opener in Australia. Kohli was being looked at as the third opening option, with no opening reserve in the squad.
“It is always nice to have options. We want flexibility in the World Cup. We want players to be in the best shape, batting at any position. When we try and do something new, that doesn't mean it is permanent. Virat opening is an option for us; we are not taking a third opener. He opens for his franchise in IPL. He is definitely an option for us. I and Rahul spoke about it, he is our third opener.”
Sharma also backed Rahul as the regular opener, saying his contribution to the team and his role was key to performance of the team. “We are not experimenting a lot for that position. Rahul will play and open in the WC. Often, his performance goes unnoticed. He is an important player for the team. What he has done last one-two years for the team has been very good. We are very clear with what Rahul brings to the table. He is a very quality player crucial for us.”
Sharma was also asked about Team India's aggressive approach in batting that was visible during Asia Cup. Noting that this was the template the team had discussed and will be following going into the T20 World Cup, the Indian captain said the entire team was comfortable with the approach wherein the top order plays attacking cricket for the middle and late order to build on further. “We will continue to play like that. It is something we spoke about at the beginning. All are comfortable with that....The guys are very clear on what needs to be done. It is now about going in and executing it,” said Sharma.
He, however, said a review of the team's approach and performance after the two series will be done before the team lands in Australia. “We will review after the six matches and finalise what we need to do in the World Cup,” said Sharma.
On Shami missing out on some real game time due to Covid and the return of Umesh Yadav who last played T20i for India in 2019 at Visakhapatnam against Australia, Sharma said Yadav was playing county cricket, representing Middlesex till July before returning to India due to injury, and was undergoing rehab at NCA.
Defending the decision to bring in Yadav who has not played for India for the last three years, Sharma said, “Shami missing out is unfortunate. Avesh Khan was quite sick in Asia Cup and needs time to recover. Umesh and Shami are playing for a long time. They don't need to be playing a particular format to be considered like new guys.”