Bhuvneshwar Kumar faces the daunting challenge of maintaining his relevance in the shortest format as a young Indian side, seeking some playing time, are expected to face stiff resistance from New Zealand in the second T20 International here on Sunday.
The series opener in Wellington was abandoned due to inclement weather and the Indian players must be itching to get to the park which has, indisputably, the most picturesque backdrop.
Ironically, the area in which the ground is located is known as the ‘Bay of Plenty’ and Indian cricket at this point has a lot to think about in its approach to the T20 format.
While the Sky Stadium was shorter in dimensions, the Indian team would have to make adjustments as the “Bay Oval” ground has larger side borders and an open ground unlike Wellington.
On this tour, the presence of the 33-year-old Bhuvneshwar is one of the dilemmas that the team management may have to deal with. There are some probing questions and quicker answers are sought, it better be Indian cricket.
Will Bhuvneshwar be there for the T20 Globalism Cup in 2024 with a sharp decline in pace? Does he have time to work through his problems because he’s not strong enough on good hitting runs? Not many T20Is lined up next year, and he’s very much a singles player, so where does that leave him? At the moment all answers seem to be negative, and then the question arises of whether playing the best pacer would be akin to taking a chance from the youngster to get into the groove.
It’s a double edged sword that interim coach VVS Laxman and Commander Pandya will face.
Not playing Bhuvneshwar when he is on the cusp of a personal milestone (4 more wickets for a career-high 40 in a calendar year) could make him frustrated.
Most of his 36 wickets came in bowler-friendly conditions and against lesser opponents. On slightly flat wickets and against better batting attacks, Bhuvneshwar became a crop.
But playing with him would be a missed opportunity for the team’s management to verify how the duo Imran Malik and Mohamed Siraj faced the strength of players such as Finn Allen, Glenn Phillips and Devon Conway in pressure situations.
Imran, India’s fastest footballer by distance, needs to be taken care of. Pakistan with Haris Rauf, Shaheen Shah Afridi and Naseem Shah showed what top speed can do.
Ishan or Shopman pick opener?
The moment Rishabh Pant was appointed vice-captain for the T20I series it was a given that he would open but whether Shubman Gill with his new found confidence in this format or specialist Ishan Kishan will pair up there remains to be seen.
In the case of Kishan, who has had problems against real pace and the favored swing, there would be two left-handers at the top while Gill’s presence would make it a left-right combination.
Another factor will be the choice between KKR captain Shreyas Iyer, not exactly a fast starter in T20Is and the dynamic Deepak Hooda, who can also turn tight breaks from wicket to wicket.
To accommodate both Hooda and Shreyas, Kishan would then need to be dropped from the playing eleven. Sanju Samson and captain Pandya are the hitters along with Suryakumar Yadav, who will play the role of enforcers as well as finishers.
Chahal vs Phillips match
Glenn Phillips, one of the hottest T20 players in recent times, will have a battle on his hands when scammer Yosvendra Chahal gets his first match in many moons after being inexplicably suspended by regular coach Rahul Dravid throughout the T20 World Cup.
But the last completed T20I at this ground saw Phillips score 108 off 51 balls with as many as eight sixes against a fine attack from the West Indies.
With Ravichandran Ashwin’s T20I career coming to an end, Washington Sundar will get a long run as a specialist, while Harshal Patel will also get game time to pick up the pace he deserted just before the World Cup. As a left arm seamer, Arshdeep Singh looks like a sure player in the first of his next two matches.
Teams: India: Hardik Pandya (captain), Rishabh Pant (vc and wk), Shubman Gill, Suryakumar Yadav, Sanju Samson, Shreyas Iyer, Ishan Kishan (wk), Deepak Hooda, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldip Yadav, Washington Sundar, Harshal Patel , Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Imran Malik, Muhammad Siraj, Arshdeep Singh New Zealand: Kane Williamson (Captain), Devon Conway, Finn Allen, Glenn Phillips, Devon Sinway, Daryl Mitchell, Adam Milne, Michael Prasiol, Esh Soddy, Mitchell Santner, Lucky Ferguson, Tim Southee, Blair Tickner.
Match start time: 12 noon IST.