Hardik Pandya casts long shadow as Rohit Sharma, Ajit Agarkar defend T20 World Cup squad | Cricket News

“How does it feel, Rohit, to be captain of someone, then to be captained (by the same person) and captained (that player) again?”

Rohit Sharma was fashionably late. The Indian captain was in the building almost 45 minutes after the scheduled time for a press conference for which selection committee chairman Ajit Agarkar arrived almost 45 minutes before time.

And as he settled into a comfortable leather chair and was asked the first question about India's squad for next month's T20 World Cup, Rohit looked like a man who would have preferred to be somewhere other than Wankhede Stadium. .

Rohit smiled his typical wry smile.

“It’s part of life, not everything is going to go the way you want it to,” he said, trying to sound philosophical. “Before in my life, I've never been a captain, so it's not new to me. Whatever is there is there and you follow it, do what is required of you. I've only been trying to do this for about a month.

No names have been retained. But there was no reward for guessing who it was. In a season where he has been one of the most talked about – rather scrutinized – players, it was no surprise that the first question was about Hardik Pandya.

Festive offer

As Rohit and Agarkar sat there analyzing the Indian squad for the T20 World Cup, which begins on June 2, the subject of Pandya came up time and again.

First of all, it was the elephant in the room: the captaincy question. “Usually as selectors you want a leader,” Agarkar said. “Rohit has been a tremendous leader – six months between the 50-over World Cup and this one. We had to make some decisions. I know Hardik has directed (in) a few shows before this. But Rohit's form during the World Cup… Rohit is a great player. It's not like it's being forced on us.

act of faith

Then came a question about his long absence and fitness issues, given that Pandya last played for India in October 2023. And then, his questionable current form. The captain and coach spent considerable time justifying Pandya's place in the team, not to mention the decision to make him vice-captain.

“He came in after a long layoff,” Agarkar said. “He has overcome every match since Mumbai Indians. We still have a month and a bit left before we play our first match. I hope he builds on this form.

Just five months ago, these questions might have seemed frivolous.

Pandya had been one of the key members of India's ODI World Cup squad until he injured his ankle against Bangladesh. Weeks after India lost the final to Australia, he replaced Rohit as captain of Mumbai Indians, a move which was also seen as a moment of passing the baton as far as the team was concerned national. He was then expected to lead the next generation of players who flooded the team as India exited the ODI cycle and began preparing for the T20 World Cup.

Hardik Pandya injured against Bangladesh Pandya had been one of the key members of India's ODI World Cup squad until he injured his ankle against Bangladesh. (PTI)

After initially flirting with the idea, India returned to the tried-and-tested combination, sticking to the core that has remained largely unchanged since 2021. And Rohit downplayed the idea of ​​a generational change, saying the Personnel changes at the time were just one case. to give players enough rest.

And so, Pandya has to get used to being captain again even though he once had the support of the team management. Agarkar threw his weight behind Pandya, saying there was “no replacement” for him. Rohit hinted that the all-rounder, if he manages to surpass his quota of overs, could give the freedom to bowl an extra spinner in conditions which he said could help the tweakers given the early morning starts at the Antilles.

Cards on the table

“I wanted four spinners and three seamers and with Hardik being there you get the balance. With two spinners (Ravindra Jadeja And Axar Patel) being versatile, two attackers (Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal) also give you balance in the spin department. Depending on the composition of the opposition, we can decide what to play with,” Rohit said.

The team management has “discussed a lot” about adding an off-spinner to the mix to get some variety of similar-looking spinning attacks.

AT THE BEGINNING India's Axar Patel celebrates with captain Rohit Sharma the wicket of Afghan batter Rahmanullah Gurbaz during the first T20I cricket match between India and Afghanistan, in Mohali, Thursday, January 11, 2024. (PTI Photo)

“(But) unfortunately, Washy (Washington Sundar) did not have the opportunity. It was then between Ash (Ravichandran Ashwin) and Axar. We thought we had two left-arm spinners who are actually bowling and doing well, and Ashwin hasn't bowled that well in a long time. Axar is in good shape. He bowls well…and gives us that left-handed option if we want to send someone in the middle if we want to do something different.

Agarkar joked that “I hope the captain can roll his arm” if India needed an office. But the captain was clear about what he expected from Pandya and Pace Bowling's other all-rounder, Shivam Dubey. “Expect them to do what they do in the initial loading. I expect that if we need Shivam to bowl a few overs, he will. Same with Hardik. The all-rounders ka jo bhi role hai, they have to do it.

Agarkar added: “There is no substitute for what he brings to the team, especially with the ball. His fitness is key and so far he has performed well in the IPL.

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