Let’s play a game.
You’ll need at least one cricket-loving, IPL-watching buddy for this. Each of you grab a pen and a scrap of paper…..or just be normal and pull out your smartphones.
You have 30 seconds. Write down the names of three players who you feel have been unjustly excluded from India’s T20I series against Australia.
Once you’re done, compare your answers with your friends.
Don’t worry if your answers are different. That’s totally normal.
This game should have demonstrated two things. Firstly, it betrays the contentious selections made in India’s 16-man squad for the T20I series in Australia.
However, for the purposes of this discussion, let’s stick to the second thing we learn from this game: India arguably has the deepest talent pool in T20 cricket and has never been more spoiled for choice.
To complicate things, the almost unprecedented rise of uncapped Indian batsmen during the ongoing IPL season has thrown even more names into the hat.
Take, for example, this past Wednesday’s game between RCB and Mumbai. Devdutt Padikkal played anchor and aggressor during a fluent 74 (45), which saw him dominate partnerships he formed with Kohli and de Villiers before he was outdone by Suryakumar Yadav’s match-winning 79* (43).
24 hours later, another uncapped duo top-scored for KKR and CSK respectively. Nitish Rana’s 87 off 61 balls powered Kolkata to 172 before Ruturaj Gaikwad’s 72 off 53 set the stage for Jadeja’s heroics.
The evidence is more than just anecdotal.
At the time of writing, Indian players without a T20I cap have top-scored in 29 out 100 completed batting innings in this season’s IPL. That’s more than the combined numbers for 2018 and 2019, where uncapped Indians top-scored in 28 out 238 innings.
However, even with this embarrassment of riches, India has not won a T20 world title since the inaugural World T20 in 2007. Despite the IPL being arguably tougher than international cricket, Indian cricketers aren’t always replicating their IPL numbers when they make the leap to international cricket.
Part of the reason for this is that outside the IPL, the average Indian cricketer does not play enough high-pressure, ultra-competitive T20 cricket. This is due to the BCCI’s efforts to weaken the commercial viability of overseas T20 leagues by barring active Indian cricketers from participating in them.
In an ideal world, the BCCI would reverse this textbook restraint of trade and allow Indian players to ply their trade in the CPL, BBL or — dare I say it — the PSL.
But that’s not happening anytime soon.
The next-best alternative is to increase game time for IPL heroes on the periphery of national selection. With all the potential starts at India’s disposal, this can be best achieved by fielding two parallel T20 teams simultaneously against two different international opponents.
Imagine Virat Kohli walking out for the toss at the SCG at 11:30 am IST, less than 12 hours before Rohit Sharma captains another Indian team at Eden Gardens against the West Indies.
You’re shaking your head.
Perhaps you’re concerned about a dilution of talent. Or are you worried about an overdose of T20 cricket?
Perhaps the idea of the hegemonic BCCI increasing its broadcast revenues from bilateral series is making your stomach churn.
In any case, there is more than enough depth in India’s T20 ranks to select two T20 XIs without compromising on the quality of talent on show. Before Sir Jadeja’s fans hurl insults at this writer, below is just an example of what these parallel teams might look like.
While Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul open for Team 1, Team 2’s innings will be kick-started by southpaw Shikhar Dhawan and one of the best openers of this year’s IPL, Mayank Agarwal.
Unlike Team 2, Team 1 won’t have the services of Kohli, but they possess the versatile and destructive uncapped duo of Nitish Rana and Suryakumar Yadav. Both teams bat deep with a balance of left-handers and right-handers, versatile finger spinners, wrist spinners, seamers who consistently clock in the 140s, and powerplay specialists that often find early swing.
There is, of course, the very real concern over player workload. Fortunately, there is a like-for-like replacement among the reserves for nearly every player in either XI. In fact, some would argue that these like-for-like replacements form part of India’s best XI.
As for those who don’t make either squad, they can go on tours with India A, where they can play against the best emerging talent across the world.
Unlike the ODI Super League, there is no meritocratic league structure that determines T20 World Cup qualification. This means that bilateral series, which are really just glorified practice matches with T20I status, are fertile grounds for experimentation in the build-up to the World Cup.
The problem is that there are too many variables (players) to experiment with, but there aren’t enough laboratories (games). Perhaps what many view as inconsistency in selection is merely a curious, open-minded approach guided by the unprecedented quantity of contenders for the final eleven.
Whatever the case, a large number of India’s IPL stars simply don’t have the opportunities to develop into match-winners on the international circuit. These limited opportunities come at the cost of their development, and from a national standpoint, it could cost India yet another World Cup.