CHENNAI: In the absence of a press conference, it is hard to ascertain whether the national selectors have rested or dropped Virat Kohli for the T20Is against West Indies. The press release — apart from naming the 18 players picked for the tour — has only one added information, which relates to the inclusion of KL Rahul and Kuldeep Yadav, whose availability for the series is subject to clearing fitness test. The selection committee led by Chetan Sharma has once again left it to the world to interpret their decision.
There is a strong chance Kohli has been rested alongside Jasprit Bumrah, Yuzvendra Chahal because India want him fresh for the upcoming challenges, which include a T20 World Cup in Australia in three months time. There is also a strong chance that Kohli has been dropped from the squad as in his absence, the likes of Deepak Hooda and Suryakumar Yadav have not only earned their spot, but have also shown India are not really missing the services of their former captain.
Sometime in the next three months, India have to take a call on whether Kohli is part of their plans for the T20 World Cup or not. If one goes by the current form, he doesn’t merit a place as, in Hooda and Suryakumar, India have batters who are playing the T20s the way it should be played.
But the World Cup is happening in Australia, where the conditions — especially adjusting to the bounce — will be challenging for batters even on batting friendly pitches. In the team that is picked for West Indies, barring Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya, who are expected to take the middle-order slots, Hooda, Suryakumar and Dinesh Karthik are yet to play any T20Is in Australia. Which is why, India still believe Kohli will be crucial to their plans Down Under as his experience in those conditions will be quite handy.
Although there is no official word, a couple of selectors privately confirmed that Kohli was not picked for the West Indies series since he asked for rest. However, there is no guarantee that Kohli will get his place back for the Asia Cup which follows soon after the West Indies series.
Had Kohli been amongst runs, this would have been an easy decision. Here the selectors and the team management are facing a unique challenge. Such scenarios are not new to world cricket. South Africa saw it with AB de Villiers in the lead up to the 2019 World Cup and Bangladesh with Tamim Iqbal ahead of the last T20 World Cup. Like Kohli, both the batters had opted out of the ODI and T20 team for different reasons and with their replacements performing well in their absence, they were no longer automatic picks and subsequently missed those ICC events.
Kohli and India are facing a similar prospect now. Since the last T20 World Cup in October-November, Kohli has missed the series against New Zealand, Sri Lanka and South Africa and will now miss the five matches against West Indies too. Apart from the IPL, Kohli has only featured in four T20Is for India, which are far from being ideal preparation in a World Cup year.
With Hooda and Suryakumar not only confirming their tickets to Australia, but having made all the right noises for their continuous presence in the XI, the question is how far will India wait to decide on Kohli. He is too good a player to be picked for the World Cup and be asked to warm the bench. And in the current form he isn’t the first name on the team sheet either. The squad for the Asia Cup may well provide some clarity.
Squad: Rohit Sharma (capt), Ishan Kishan, KL Rahul*, Suryakumar Yadav, Deepak Hooda, Shreyas Iyer, Dinesh Karthik, Rishabh Pant, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, R Ashwin, Ravi Bishnoi, Kuldeep Yadav*, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Avesh Khan, Harshal Patel, Arshdeep Singh.
*KL Rahul and Kuldeep Yadav inclusion is subject to fitness.