Future could be perfect for India

The Australia series may have been devoid of jeopardy but the next batch of youngsters coming through the system have done well
Series win against Australia might not have had any impact in the larger scheme of things, but the players who stole the show had. (Photo I Vinod Kumar T)
Series win against Australia might not have had any impact in the larger scheme of things, but the players who stole the show had. (Photo I Vinod Kumar T)

CHENNAI:  When the Indian team took the field against Australia in a bilateral T20I less than 100 hours after the ODI World Cup final, there were questions over its context. How could a fan be excited for an inconsequential T20I days after such a high-stakes match. After all, India had come so close to ending the ICC trophy drought before falling flat in the summit clash.

The sentiment was understandable. And the schedule came under scrutiny. However, ten more days and five T20Is later, there is something to be excited about in Indian cricket. There are questions, for many of which there are no answers at the moment, but the next generation of T20I cricketers have given something to look forward to.

A 4-1 bilateral series win against Australia might not have had any impact in the larger scheme of things, but the players who stole the show had. Take the case of Yashasvi Jaiswal. He has had some 2023. After having a breakthrough IPL season, the youngster broke into the national side. He made his Test debut and replicated his success with the T20I side as well.

The left-handed opener has infused a breath of fresh air at the top where no bowler is spared. He has married Indian cricket's favourite word ‘intent’ with consistency and the results are there to see. At the other end is Ruturaj Gaikwad, very different from Jaiswal in terms of approach, who took some time to get his eye in but when he cashed in, he did it in a big way. And he is capable of playing the aggressor, too, as one saw with Chennai Super Kings in the 2023 IPL season. Gaikwad — 223 runs at an average of 55.75 at a strike rate of 159.28 — and Jaiswal — 138 runs at 27.6 avg and 168.29 SR — have shown what they are capable of.

Then there is Jitesh Sharma and Rinku Singh. The latter's stocks in Indian cricket is rising fast and with a valid reason. The IPL success has boosted his confidence. On multiple occasions, he was there as the last man standing, taking India home. His innate hitting ability apart, what sets Rinku apart is the nerveless method that he applies and how he backs himself to do the job for the team. Jitesh, at the moment, is still growing as a finisher, but he has shown signs of being the middle-order intent merchant. It does not matter where his entry point is, Jitesh comes out all guns blazing, not letting the bowlers settle one bit. He has less than 100 runs in three innings, but his boundary percentage and immediate impact makes him an exciting prospect to keep an eye on.

Between the openers and the finisher is Suryakumar Yadav, who has a batter is still India's best in the format, and he continued to show why. While Shreyas Iyer was the other batter with SKY, he could just be warming the seat for when Hardik Pandya, who has led India since the last T20 World Cup, comes back from injury. And when he does, the top six — Jaiswal, Gaikwad, SKY, Pandya, Rinku and Jitesh — could be very exciting in terms of what they can accomplish.

In the lower-order, Axar Patel, who was left out of the South Africa tour with Ravindra Jadeja being made vice-captain, showed why he has to be among the first names on the sheet. Ravi Bishnoi did well and so did Arshdeep Singh, spearheading the pace attack as the senior fast bowler. Even when the likes of Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami come back, he could well retain his place in the team.

Strategist & recruitment analyst Dan Weston feels that exciting times ahead for India in the shortest format. “I think that they've got these really good options and there's this new breed of T20 batters coming through, which perhaps wasn't necessarily the case 3-5 years ago where I felt that the Indian batting in general was a little bit too conservative,” says Weston while talking about the rise of Jitesh and Rinku.

It might seem like Indian cricket has drawn a line in the sand, beginning to rebrand themselves in T20Is. However, that is not the case yet. The South Africa tour would be a continuation of what the Australian series was with the same bunch of youngsters, most of whom would be playing in such conditions for the first time.

While it goes without saying that they should be backed irrespective of the outcome, that might not be the reality. Will Pandya take over the team officially as T20I captain when he comes back? Are they going to bring back Rohit Sharma to lead because of the way he captained and batted in the ODI World Cup? Will Virat Kohli be back for the T20 World Cup that is set to happen in the United States of America and West Indies? Will Rishabh Pant make his India comeback after the IPL?

Some of the answers could become clear by the time the home series against Afghanistan comes along in January. And for some more, it might all come down to how these youngsters and the seniors do in the first half of the Indian Premier League. For now, all one can say is that the new generation of T20 cricketers have given something to look forward to in Indian cricket.

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