CHENNAI: Virat Kohli. Suryakumar Yadav. Rishabh Pant. Shreyas Iyer. And throw in KL Rahul, if India decides to open with Ishan Kishan to open the innings with captain Rohit Sharma.
In the T20I home season that came to an end in which they played nine T20Is against New Zealand, West Indies and Sri Lanka, they have remained unbeaten. Importantly, despite missing regulars at different stages, India have more or less zeroed in on the core for the T20 World Cup in Australia.
Between now and the next series against South Africa in June, the upcoming Indian Premier League (IPL) could help them finalise the 15 or even give fresh headaches. In the midst of changing personalities and combination, India seem to have managed to crack the T20 code and these wins will no doubt be confidence-inducing ones, especially given how badly they performed at the T20 World Cup last October-November.
In a format where India have preferred to rest key players to manage workload, playing a full-strength XI has been a luxury that captains – Kohli or Rohit – have seldom enjoyed. And with the T20I series lined up against South Africa, Zimbabwe, England, West Indies and Asia Cup, India have plenty of opportunities to test their combination.
While Kohli appears certain to be No 3, Shreyas Iyer, who played in his place, came up with an impressive show in the series against Sri Lanka, scoring 57* (28b), 74* (44b), and 73* (45b). That India, with their first-choice batters around, didn't even start with Shreyas in the XI in the T20s against West Indies until the series was won, showed the Mumbaikar may have to wait.
For a batter who primarily bats at No 3, India have used him in the position only 8 times in his 36-match career so far. The right-hander has batted at No 5 on 12 occasions followed by No 4 in 8 innings. The No 5 slot has appeared too low for a player like Shreyas, who prefers to get his eye in before teeing off. That he has been held back to bat at No 6 in four innings also showed in case of few overs left, India preferred more expansive stroke-makers to Shreyas.
Speaking to reporters on Sunday after he was adjudged Man of the Series, Shreyas was frank enough to admit where he intends to bat. “Obviously in this format, top-three is the only place where you can pace your innings pretty well. Otherwise, if you bat down the order, you can't give yourself the time you need to start going from ball one. So yeah, if I had to say the best number to bat for me personally, it's obviously No. 3,” Shreyas said.
Given the dynamic role that Suryakumar, Pant or even Sanju Samson offer, it won't come as a surprise if India prefers them over Shreyas in the XI unless they decide to look beyond Kohli. While that seems far fetched now, Shreyas admitted his place in the side is far from assured given the competition.
"I'm not keeping any expectations from myself nor from the team coaches because if you see the competition in our team, it's immense. Every individual is capable of winning you games. Personally, I want to enjoy each and every moment and opportunity, which I've been provided with. I can't talk about cementing my place in the team, because the competition is so much, and you need to be flexible about batting in any position and any given situation. My mindset is just to grab as many opportunities as I can and make use of it," Shreyas added.