First look at answering questions

The three-match series is perhaps more significant to the younger players than the returning stars
Shubman Gill (L),  Yashasvi Jaiswal  (C) and Tilak Varma  during a training  session in  Mohali on  Wednesday. (Photo | PTI)
Shubman Gill (L), Yashasvi Jaiswal (C) and Tilak Varma during a training session in Mohali on Wednesday. (Photo | PTI)

CHENNAI: When India head coach Rahul Dravid arrived for the pre-series press conference ahead of the first T20I against Afghanistan in Mohali on Wednesday, he had quite a bit to clarify. It started with a statement from him saying that Virat Kohli, included in this format for the first time since 2022 World Cup, wasn’t available for the first match for ‘personal reasons’

Then came the questions on Shreyas Iyer and Ishan Kishan. If Shreyas was added to Mumbai squad for the next Ranji game against Andhra, Kishan, who had requested for some time away in the middle of the South Africa tour, had not returned to action. In the couple of days since the squad was announced, there were speculations as to whether the two batters had been dropped on disciplinary grounds.

Dravid, however, denied the claims. “Absolutely not,” he said, adding, "Ishan Kishan was not available for selection. Ishan had requested for a break in South Africa which we agreed to, supported and recognised. I do not think he made himself available for selection as yet. I am sure when he is available, he will play domestic cricket and make himself available for selection. So that was the case." As far as Shreyas was concerned, Dravid said that it had to do with the number of batters in the squad. “There are no disciplinary reasons, that was not discussed at all, at least in my discussion with the selectors when they were having these deliberations,” he reiterated.

It has been that kind of start to 2024. Despite beginning the year with a comprehensive Test victory in Cape Town, the return of Rohit Sharma and Kohli for the T20 format had been the talk of the town. Though the players played it close to the chest, what did not help was that the squad announcement happened through a press release. The BCCI release had a 15-member squad and nothing more. There was no information regarding the players who were not picked or unavailable for a certain match or those who had made a comeback after 14 months and so on.

At a time when the team is playing what is their only international assignment in the format months before a World Cup, one would have expected the selectors to address a press conference and provide some clarity on the changes. However, that was not the case. In fact, the last time selectors addressed a press conference was before the ODI World Cup. For now, one can only expect and hope that the coach and captain will be able to provide some through the course of the three-match series.

Coming to the series itself, having focussed the red-ball and 50-over format for the last year, Dravid, as a coach, will have just one series before the next global event. He said that the players will have to adapt and they will have to rely on the upcoming season of the Indian Premier League (IPL) for preparation. “We might not get too many chances to play together, so we will have to work around that. You just need to adapt and be flexible. We had a good preparation leading into the one-day WC. Even in the last T20I World Cup, we had a lot of games together as a group. This time we won’t have that (many matches) probably, but it is all about adapting while going ahead,” said Dravid.

And the “work around” will begin on Thursday from the first T20I where Rohit and Yashasvi Jasiwal will open the batting, which the head coach confirmed. Without Kohli, Shubman Gill might bat at three in Mohali followed by the likes of Tilak Varma, Rinku Singh, Jitesh Sharma/Sanju Samson. However, the question comes to what will happen when Kohli returns for the second game. That’s even before you consider that both Hardik Pandya and Suryakumar Yadav will come back once fit. What happens to the make-up of the squad then?

While there are no answers at the moment, the three games will be about the younger players making the selectors’ life hard with a number of noteworthy performances. They will be striving to make an impression to make life hard for the superstars.

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The New Indian Express