With just about a month to go for the WTC Final, nerves will be high in the Indian camp and the pressure will be immense. After all, India has NOT won a single ICC trophy since the 2013 Champions Trophy. But do not rely on this stat alone as India has also been very consistent in the ICC trophies from then onwards, in a good way and also in a bad way. When we talk about being consistent in a good way, India has been in an ICC trophy Final or Semi-Final 7 times out the past 8 ICC tournaments (2014 T20WC F, 2015CWC SF, 2016 T20WC SF, 2017 CT F, 2019 CWC SF, 2021 T20WC eliminated in group stage, 2021 WTC F, 2022 T20WC SF).

Now, coming onto the part of being consistent in a bad way. Inspite of having played 4 Semi-Finals and 3 Finals, India has not tasted success for the past 10 years and the only apparent problem that we can observe is PRESSURE. India has simply not been able to handle the pressure of playing in the knock-outs. Every time we played in a KO, the inherent problem has been the batting or in the case of the 2016 T20WC or the 2022 T20WC, it was the batting and the bowling as well.

So, what can we expect?

Well, if history is any indication, we might just fumble somewhere be it a batting collapse or giving away too many runs without taking a wicket or both and unless the team management and the players collectively have worked on absorbing the pressure well and not losing key wickets cheaply, it is going to be same script all over again.

Coming to what the XI should be, BCCI has definitely released a strong looking squad with a few surprising additions namely Ajinkya Rahane and Jaydev Unadkat. Now, the reason I call them surprising is that we haven’t seen them in international test format regularly over the last few months.

Let’s get to what the ideal XI should look like, we’ll go position wise.

I don’t think there should much discussion or argument when I say the only opening pair we should use is Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill. Rohit being the captain and having a spectacular record batting in England will obviously open. The only question is who will he open with? But with Gill’s recent performances it is only obvious that he should be the one opening and it will make zero sense if KL Rahul is made to open and Gill is pushed down the order because then you will be pushing him outside his ‘comfort zone’ and you really do not want to disturb the rhythm of a batsman who is very much in form.

The number three and four positions are already set with Pujara coming in at 3, followed by Virat Kohli at 4.

Now is the time for the big question, who plays at 5 and 6? Is it KL Rahul and SK Bharat or Rahane and KL Rahul or even Rahane and SK Bharat by excluding KL Rahul from the XI completely. In my opinion, the best option has to be Ajinkya Rahane at 5 followed by KL Rahul at 6 who will then also the wicket keeper for India. The reason why Ajinkya Rahane at 5 will be better is that one, he is in good form, two, he is a very reliable player and is someone who has a good record playing in England and three, he is a natural leader. Ajinkya Rahane has a great captaincy record and even though he will not be the captain in this match, the team and Rohit Sharma can very well use his intellect and Rahane has the ability to lead and motivate a team forward. The prime example was the 2021 Border Gavaskar Trophy where he not only batted brilliantly in Melbourne to give India it’s first win of the series but also led the boys to a famous series win after the humiliating defeat at Adelaide. This shows that even if Rahane does not score too much, he will still be a value addition to the team solely because of his leadership skills. As for KL Rahul, he is a decent wicket keeper and can also score runs when playing in the middle order and in a game where scoring runs will be important, it would be wise to have Rahul over KS Bharat because of his ability to score important runs and at the same time keep wickets.

Moving on to the lower order, when you are going to be playing in England, it is always better to have 4 fast bowlers/seam bowlers and one spin bowler and when this is the case I feel the best way to go forward would be Shardul Thakur playing at 7 because then your batting order goes very deep, which helps and plus we have seen that he is a good bowler who will get the team wickets. Other than Shardul Thakur, the remaining 3 fast bowlers have to be Mohd Siraj, Mohd Shami and Umesh Yadav over Jaydev Unadkat solely because of his experience in international test cricket in England. Honestly I’m missing Hardik Pandya and Ishant Sharma in this squad. Hardik because not only is he performing better than Shardul in the IPL but also would have been a great fit considering the conditions at The Oval and Ishant because 1) he has greater experience than Jaydev Unadkat, 2) he seems to be in a good form with the ball and possibly can even substitute both Jaydev and Umesh Yadav in the current circumstance and last but not the least, he has had a pretty good bowling record in England especially when there’s going to be good amount of swing in the pitch.

The last decision will be who gets the only spin bowler position. It will interesting which perspective the selectors will be going for. One is you can go for more batting depth or you can only focus on the bowling aspect. If we are to look into the more batting depth option, there are only two players: Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel because of their current form and especially the way they are batting. But even between these two, the better option would be Jadeja. Again, the sole reason being his experience and maturity compared to Axar Patel. The other perspective, which is solely choosing the bowler based on his bowling and not taking into account his batting skill. If we are to choose the final player according to this perspective, the best option would be Ravichandran Ashwin because 1) he’s economical, 2) he can get you wickets even in surfaces like those in England and 3) he can hold the fort while batting like we’ve seen so many times and most recently in Australia, which is really a bonus.

To brief it all up, this is what I feel India’s playing XI should be: Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, KL Rahul, Shardul Thakur, Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohd Shami, Umesh Yadav, Mohd Siraj.

This is all from my side for today, I am as excited as you to see what happens next, who makes it into the playing XI and finally, who wins the long awaited WTC?

Stay tuned for more blogs and cricket related content.


Update: KL Rahul has now been ruled out of the WTC Final due to an injury picked up in the LSG vs RCB game. It is most likely that he will be replaced by Wriddhiman Saha for the final, who is a great fit and is also in a good form as long as IPL is concerned.

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