Next-gen players take guard in Zimbabwe

Barely two days after the Indian contingent landed in the country with the ICC trophy, another men’s team will be in action and that too, in the same format.
VVS Laxman, the coach for the series, along with Shubman Gill
VVS Laxman, the coach for the series, along with Shubman Gill Photo | BCCI

CHENNAI: It’s been less than 48 hours since Indian fans brought Mumbai to a standstill. The thousands of fans, who packed the streets of Marine Drive, in the stands at Wankhede, celebrating the T20 World Cup-winning men’s team, are probably still hungover from the euphoria they experienced. But, cricket, as they say, is a giant wheel that never stops.

Barely two days after the Indian contingent landed in the country with the ICC trophy, another men’s team will be in action and that too, in the same format. This time, against Zimbabwe in Harare. This is nothing new at this point. After the 2022 T20 World Cup triumph, the England men stayed back in Australia for an inconsequential ODI series, which they lost 3-0. And that England team included nine members from the title-winning squad.

In Harare, however, none of the WC squad members will take the field, at least not in the first game. Some of them are expected to join the squad in Zimbabwe, but by and large, it is a second-string team led by Shubman Gill. But there is more. With Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Ravindra Jadeja bidding adieu to the format, there are quite a few spots that are up for grabs. Several youngsters, who had been proving themselves consistently while desperately waiting for an opportunity, will finally get a chance to make an impression.

Among them are two men who have batted through age-group cricket for Punjab — Gill and Abhishek Sharma. While the former has established himself in the other two formats, this is his chance in the shortest one. And joining him would be one of his best friends from childhood Abhishek, who took the 2024 IPL season by storm with Sunrisers Hyderabad. They are not alone. Ruturaj Gaikwad, the likely No 3 on Saturday, and Yashasvi Jaiswal, who will miss the game because he was in Mumbai, are also in contention.

Then come the likes of Riyan Parag, Sanju Samson, Shivam Dube, Dhruv Jurel, Rinku Singh, and Jitesh Sharma — all of them fighting for a place in the middle-order. India’s resources and depth in batting are well-known, but now the competition is all the more visible as apart from Rinku, no one has cemented their spot in the middle-order.

Although the future of the team is impossible to predict, but these five games could give a glimpse of players who could be in the mix going forward. “There are a lot of young players in the team, including myself. I think, in terms of that, we just want to give players the experience of what it is like to play at the international level,” said Gill.

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