One of the weirder trends in this year’s Indian Premier League (IPL) has been the way most of the current stars of the Indian limited overs’ line-up have had underwhelming performances till now, even as players never heard of before, players long on the fringes of the national squad, and players on the verge of retirement have set the tournament on fire with one scintillating performance after another. For an Indian cricket fan, this is at once both promising and scary – the existing players of the Indian team are out of form; while you have exciting replacements available for each position, you cannot simply get rid of well established players, with years of accomplishment behind them, on the basis of performances in one season of IPL.
This has led us to this fun exercise – what if we hypothetically replace the current team that represents India at the various limited overs’ tournament with players who have performed better than them in this year’s IPL? We can prepare an alternative eleven that may even beat our regular Indian XI, at least in a T20 match, on the basis of recent form.
First the usual caveats though. Please note that this is an entirely theoretical exercise and it is not advisable for selectors to try this in their meetings. Playing for an IPL franchise is completely different from representing India at an international tournament. Moreover, most Indian stars are playing in this year’s IPL after a long, exhausting home season. Many of them are making comebacks from injuries. They may not be as fit and fresh as their less known domestic counterparts. And most importantly, as Joginder Sharma showed us once (or twice), “Form is temporary, class is permanent.”
Please note that all figures and statistics are as on 05th May, 2017, post completion of the match between Kings XI Punjab and Royal Challengers Bangalore.
In the recent limited overs’ matches, India has opened with a combination of any two of Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, KL Rahul, and Shikhar Dhawan (with Kohli putting up guest appearances here and there). Given their respective limited overs’ form, and the track record of selection in the recent past, it is safe to assume that in case all four are fit and available for selection, Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul will make the cut.
In the IPL so far, the performance of the regular Indian openers has been tepid. It is fair to say that Rahane is in the middle of one of his worse seasons of IPL, scoring just 226 runs in 11 matches at an average of 21 and strike rate of 121. Shikhar Dhawan has been better, scoring 369 runs in 11 matches at an average of 37 and strike rate of 126. While Dhawan sits sixth among the highest run getters in IPL so far, his strike rate is the worst of all batsmen in the top 15. In Dhawan’s defence, his job so far has been mostly to take singles and bring the marauding David Warner on strike.
As far as Rohit Sharma is concerned, he has had an even worse IPL than the first two, scoring just 173 runs in 10 matches at an average of 25 and strike rate of 118. Making a comeback from injury, he has batted in the middle order instead of opening, and has only started showing glimpses of his formidable IPL record. KL Rahul, on the other hand, is sitting out of the entire tournament because of injury.
There are at least three Indian openers who can challenge these four players on the basis of their current form. They are Gautam Gambhir (411 runs at an average of 51 and strike rate of 135), Sanju Samson (374 runs at an average of 37 and strike rate of 144), and Rahul Tripathi (352 runs at an average of 39 and strike rate of 155). These three feature among the top seven highest run scorers of the tournament so far. And all three play at comfortable strike rates, are adept at scoring boundaries, and are not prone to getting bogged down in the crease. To add bonus points, Gambhir can double up as a feisty, aggressive skipper; Samson can also keep, while Tripathi can serve as a part time bowler. There is not much more you can expect from your openers.
The Middle Order:
India’s middle order in recent tournaments has mostly starred a combination of Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Kedar Jadhav, Manish Pandey and Yuvraj Singh. Apart from Suresh Raina (395 runs at average of 49 and strike rate of 145) and Manish Pandey (341 runs at average of 57 and strike rate of 137), the others have not really done justice to their reputation.
Part of this can be attributed to the woeful season Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) is having with the bat. At the start of the tournament, it seemed inconceivable that a batting line up comprising of Virat Kohli, Chris Gayle, AB De Villiers, Kedar Jadhav, and Shane Watson could fail. But not only has this batting line up been a massive failure, it has combusted so thoroughly, repeatedly, and embarrassingly that a lot of RCB fans are left longing for the 2008 line up of true blue T20 hitters like Wasim Jaffer, Rahul Dravid, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, and Jacques Kallis, with Sunil Joshi thrown in as a pinch hitter.
Virat Kohli is having a very average tournament, not just by his own exalted standard, but by even an average batsman’s expectations. He has scored 245 runs so far, averaging 31 at a strike rate of 124. The more surprising statistic here is the strike rate, worst in the list of top 20 run getters, and definitely not becoming of the best batsman in the planet right now. Kedar Jadhav has also struggled generally, with a string of failures in between a few reminders of his delicious stroke making – scoring 247 runs at a lower average of 25, but far better strike rate of 147.
Yuvraj Singh has so far played two substantial innings – both sublime knocks that evoked collective nostalgia, but has not done much otherwise. In his defence, he has not had to do much in a batting lineup where bulk of the scoring has so far been done by David Warner, Shikhar Dhawan, Moises Henriques, and Kane Williamson. His record – 187 runs at average of 31 and strike rate of 164, is still better than some of his other international teammates.
Based on their current form, the batsmen who can lay claim to the international squad include Robin Uthappa (384 runs at average of 43 and strike rate of 171), Nitish Rana (312 runs at average of 35 and strike rate of 129), Dinesh Karthik (286 runs at average of 36 and strike rate of 138), Shreyas Iyer (204 runs at average of 34 and strike rate of 140), and Manoj Tiwary (190 runs at average of 32 and strike rate of 146).
This bunch offers an eclectic mix of a hitherto unknown player plucked to IPL fame from obscurity (Nitish Rana), a rising star of Indian cricket (Shreyas Iyer), and three other players who have drifted in and out of the Indian squad without really putting together a successful international career.
Interestingly, there are two more wicketkeepers in this group (Uthappa and Karthik) to go with a makeshift keeper present in the list of openers (Samson). And we are yet to officially come to the section of wicketkeeper in the squad.
MS Dhoni is not only the current wicketkeeper of the Indian limited overs side, he is also one of the all time great wicketkeepers in One Day Internationals, and one of the first ones to master the Twenty20 format. Such has been his form and fitness over the last twelve years, and such has been his success as a player and a skipper in the shorter formats of the game, that it is difficult to remember the last time anyone else had donned the gloves for the Men in Blue.
You would not be able to guess any of these by looking at Dhoni’s numbers in the IPL 2017 so far. He has had a pretty poor season, scoring 204 runs at an average of 26 and strike rate of 110, with only one innings of note so far, albeit a crucial, match winning one. His failure to rotate the strikes in the middle overs has become evident from his low strike rate which is the worst among batsmen who have scored more than 100 runs in the IPL 2017 till date.
On the other hand of the spectrum is Rishabh Pant, a fresh faced 19 year old, who has overcome personal tragedy to post brilliant returns in this year’s IPL, scoring 281 runs at average of 28 and strike rate of 176. In sharp contrast to Dhoni’s numbers, his strike rate is the highest of all batsmen who have scored more than 125 runs in the IPL.
At the end of India’s campaign in the 2016 T20 World Cup, an Aussie journalist asked Dhoni if he wanted to play on. As part of a belaboured reply, Dhoni mentioned, “I wish it was an Indian media person. Then I would have asked if he has a son who is a wicketkeeper and ready to play. He would have said no, then I would have said maybe a brother who is a wicketkeeper and who is ready to play.”
Obviously, Dhoni was referring to what then looked like a bare cupboard of India’s limited overs wicket keeping talent. But a lot has changed since then. Rishabh Pant, Sanju Samson, Robin Uthappa, Dinesh Karthik, and even Parthiv Patel have done well in this year’s IPL. Among the established Indian players, both KL Rahul and Kedar Jadhav can keep wickets, at least at T20 level. Dhoni’s place in the squad is looking more insecure than ever before.
The Indian national team has preferred to go with Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja as the designated allrounders in recent limited overs matches. But for reasons which are completely different, the performance of these two has not been up to the mark in this year’s IPL.
Hardik Pandya has so far scored 151 runs so far at an average of 50 and strike rate of 172. While these numbers are impressive, Hardik has been used sparingly by the Mumbai Indians so far, pushed down the order and asked to bat with only a limited number of deliveries left. As a result, his highest score in the tournament remains a measly 35 not out. With the ball as well, he has been underutilized, getting to bowl just 16 overs in 10 matches, taking 4 wickets at an average of 32 and economy of 8.00. His position as the 38th highest run getter and 41st highest wicket taker in the IPL so far does not behoove his status as India’s front ranking allrounder.
If Hardik has not got a lot of opportunities, Ravindra Jadeja has simply been out of form. Marking a return from injury after a long and tiring season, he has been terribly off colour with the bat and the ball. He has scored 118 runs so far at an average of 30 and strike rate of 137, while with the ball, he has taken just 5 wickets at an average of 56 and economy of 9.65. Interestingly, given the stellar season that he has had with the red ball, Jadeja may end up joining a long list of players like Ravi Ashwin, Murali Vijay, and Wriddhiman Saha who came to national limelight through the IPL, but have become more successful in the longest format of the game.
Axar Patel, long considered a Jadeja-lite, has had a great season so far. In a low key Punjab outfit, with not a single high profile domestic name in its playing XI, Patel has shouldered much of the workload, contributing 13 wickets at an average of 20 and economy of 7.33, and 176 runs at an average of 25 and strike rate of 149. He has been the strike bowler for his franchise and has contributed crucial runs in the lower order at a healthy strike rate.
Another all-rounder that has done well has been Krunal Pandya. Like Axar, he has been more impressive with the ball, taking 10 wickets at an average of 18 and economy of 6.70, while making useful runs in the lower order, scoring 136 runs at an average of 27 and strike rate of 137.
In recent times, Ravichandran Ashwin has been India’s frontline spinner across all formats. Sadly, he is out of this year’s IPL on account of an injury. Amit Mishra, the usual replacement of Ashwin in the national team, has had a middling IPL season, taking only 8 wickets so far, at a strike rate of 28 and economy of 8.37.
In contrast to Mishra, Yuzvendra Chahal, a player that recently made debut for India, has further cemented his reputation as one of the leading spinners of India in the shortest format of the game, contributing 13 wickets so far at an average of 20 and economy of 7.33. Kuldeep Yadav has also shown glimpses of his ability, taking 9 wickets at average of 31 and economy of 8.02. Pawan Negi is another spinner that has impressed, taking 11 wickets at average of 15 and economy of 6.14, in addition to scoring 126 runs at average of 18 and strike rate of 122.
The Fast Men:
Ashish Nehra, Jasprit Bumrah and Umesh Yadav have been India’s preferred seamers in the T20 format. Of them, Bumrah has been in good form (taking 12 wickets so far at average of 27 and economy of 7.92), the other two not so much (Nehra has taken 8 wickets at average of 24 and economy of 9.60 while Umesh Yadav has taken 10 tickets at average of 26 and economy of 8.51). While being regular at taking wickets, all three bowlers have given away runs aplenty. Mohammed Shami, another regular member of the Indian squad, fitness permitting, has also fared poorly, taking just 2 wickets in 4 matches, at average of 62 and economy of 10.25.
In fact, there have been a number of seamers who have done better than these four. For one, Bhuvneshwar Kumar who has struggled to cement his place in the Indian line-up is comfortably leading the wicket charts right now, with 21 tickets, 4 wickets more than Imran Tahir who is in the second position. Not only that, his average is an impressive 13 and his economy is a lowly 6.53. Among bowlers who have taken more than 5 wickets in this year’s IPL, only Andrew Tye has had a lower average and only Pawan Negi has been more economical.
Apart from Kumar, other Indian pacers who have dominated the IPL include Sandeep Sharma (14 wickets at average of 20 and economy of 8.35), Jaydev Unadkat (12 wickets at average of 17 and economy of 7.75), and Mohit Sharma (9 wickets at average of 32 and economy of 8.55).
So here is our alternative team India line-up based on the performance in IPL 2017:
- Gautam Gambhir (Captain)
- Sanju Samson
- Robin Uthappa
- Nitish Rana
- Dinesh Karthik
- Rishabh Pant
- Axar Patel
- Pawan Negi
- Bhuvneshwar Kumar
- Sandeep Sharma
- Jaydev Unadkat
As against this, the team fielded by India against West Indies in the semi-final of the World T20 tournament held on 31st Mar, 2016 included the following players:
- Rohit Sharma
- Ajinkya Rahane
- Virat Kohli
- MS Dhoni
- Suresh Raina
- Manish Pandey
- Hardik Pandya
- Ravindra Jadeja
- Ravi Ashwin
- Jasprit Bumrah
- Ashish Nehra
A good way to compare the current form of this team with the first eleven of the Indian cricket team would be to take the composite scores assigned to these players in the various fantasy leagues (which takes into account parameters like runs scored, strike rate, wickets taken, economy rate, catches taken, etc.) and make a position wise comparison. For example, on the basis of the scores assigned by Fandromeda, one of the popular fantasy league sides, here is how these players stack up:
|Name of Player||Average Score Per Match||Name of Player||Average Score Per Match|
|Gautam Gambhir||71||Rohit Sharma||37|
|Sanju Samson||74||Ajinkya Rahane||34|
|Robin Uthappa||92||Virat Kohli||52|
|Nitish Rana||62||Suresh Raina||74|
|Dinesh Karthik||51||Manish Pandey||62|
|Rishabh Pant||66||MS Dhoni||37|
|Axar Patel||86||Hardik Pandya||50|
|Pawan Negi||70||Ravindra Jadeja||43|
|Bhuvneshwar Kumar||84||Ravi Ashwin||NA|
|Sandeep Sharma||67||Jasprit Bumrah||54|
|Jaydev Unadkat||65||Ashish Nehra||41|
So who will win a clash between these two teams? The regular Indian team still remains the favourite, simply because most of them have experience of playing for years on the big stage and know how to perform under pressure. Our team may be light on reputation, but given their red hot current form, I would wager on this team of rookies and also-runs to put up a tough fight against their more heralded peers.