Rishabh Pant, Hardik Pandya in IPL 2024 spotlight as T20 World Cup selection looms


One may love or hate the Indian Premier League (IPL) but certainly not ignore it. No wonder then that with every passing year, the IPL has evolved into a tournament around which the global cricket calendar revolves. The who’s who of the cricketing world — active and former, coaches and pundits — are keen on being part of the eight-week extravaganza.

The 17th edition of the IPL, though, will be an exception, at least for Indian cricketers. The initial phase of IPL will serve as a selection trial, crucial not only for the mega-auction in 2025 but also for the T20 World Cup in June this year. This holds particular significance due to India’s limited T20I matches in the past six months, making IPL 2024 a key determinant for assembling a team aiming to reclaim T20 World Cup glory for the first time since 2007.

With India’s squad for the World Cup far from being locked, there will be multiple players who will be vying to impress Ajit Agarkar and Co. But the national selectors will keep a close eye on six players: a pair of IPL captains, a wicketkeeping duo, and a couple of veterans.

Let’s discuss the tales of two IPL captains first. One of them has made a stunning return to his IPL alma mater after a dream run with a new franchise for two seasons. The other one has been at the centre of a controversy that’s resulted in his exclusion from the BCCI’s central contracts.

Overcoming odds: The IPL will mark Rishabh Pant’s comeback to competitive cricket since the Test series in Bangladesh in December 2022. He had suffered a horrific car crash on December 30, 2022.
| Photo Credit:
AP

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Overcoming odds: The IPL will mark Rishabh Pant’s comeback to competitive cricket since the Test series in Bangladesh in December 2022. He had suffered a horrific car crash on December 30, 2022.
| Photo Credit:
AP

Hardik Pandya’s return to Mumbai Indians has led to a heated debate among the Paltan, Mumbai Indians’ fan army. What has caused a lot of heartache, even among the most loyal franchise supporters, is the fact that the all-rounder has displaced Rohit Sharma as the captain. The Hitman himself does not seem to have taken the development well, as has been indicated through some of his near and dear ones’ social media posts. As if ensuring the flock stays united wasn’t a challenge enough, a freak injury during the 2023 ODI World Cup has meant Hardik first has to ensure he remains fit and available for the entire season, not just for Mumbai Indians but even for India’s T20 World Cup campaign.

An on-song Hardik gives India’s XI much-needed stability. Having regained fitness during an extended break — a hallmark of Hardik’s career for most of the last five years — Hardik is understood to be ready for the rigours of the next three months. Irrespective of his fitness, it will be interesting to see Rohit playing under Hardik’s captaincy in the IPL before the former leads Hardik in India’s T20 World Cup conquest shortly after the T20 League ends.

Meanwhile, Shreyas Iyer, the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) captain, finds himself in the middle of a storm. After being dropped from the Indian team and skipping the Ranji Trophy, thereby making himself unavailable for selection, Shreyas was not considered for central contracts.

How he has batted in the Ranji Trophy knockouts indicates that Shreyas is finding it hard to be in the moment. After being a shining star in India’s 2023 ODI World Cup campaign, the world seems to have turned upside down in merely four months for the Mumbai batter.

On a sticky wicket: The manner in which he has batted in the Ranji Trophy knockouts indicates that Shreyas Iyer is finding it hard to be in the moment.

On a sticky wicket: The manner in which he has batted in the Ranji Trophy knockouts indicates that Shreyas Iyer is finding it hard to be in the moment.
| Photo Credit:
EMMANUAL YOGINI

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On a sticky wicket: The manner in which he has batted in the Ranji Trophy knockouts indicates that Shreyas Iyer is finding it hard to be in the moment.
| Photo Credit:
EMMANUAL YOGINI

Head coach Rahul Dravid has clarified that neither Shreyas nor Ishan Kishan has been ruled out of the T20 World Cup. A strong first half will be the strongest boost that Shreyas can ask for. Having witnessed his heroics earlier when the chips were down, one won’t be surprised if he makes a telling statement come March 23.

Speaking of the two wicketkeepers, Ishan and Rishabh Pant find themselves in the spotlight heading into the IPL.

Similar to Shreyas, Ishan faced non-selection for not adhering to the committee’s directive to showcase skills in the Ranji Trophy. With limited opportunities across formats, Ishan opted for training with Hardik in Vadodara, prioritising IPL and T20 World Cup preparation over Ranji game-time. A strong performance in the first half of the IPL could bring Ishan back into contention for India’s open wicketkeeper slot, especially considering the upcoming challenges in the Americas.

Pant — the miracle man of Indian cricket in more ways than one — is an odd man out in this pack. As per BCCI, Pant has been declared fit as a wicketkeeper-batter for this IPL. However, the only distant possibility of him being considered for the T20 World Cup is if he regains his mojo with the willow right away. He may then take it easy in the latter half of the IPL in quest of donning India’s jersey again sooner than expected. Pant’s remarkable recovery post a major car accident in December 2022 is as astonishing as his on-field excellence and a miraculous comeback in India colours can’t be ruled out.

Transitioning to the veterans, Rohit and Virat Kohli, particularly in T20Is, warrant a comparable evaluation. However, BCCI secretary Jay Shah, while announcing Rohit as captain for the T20 World Cup, made it clear that the governing body and the selectors were not really treating them in the same manner. While Rohit has been handed the captaincy despite having featured in just three T20Is since the 2022 T20 World Cup, Shah has said a decision on Kohli will be taken later. It means Kohli’s place in the T20 World Cup squad isn’t guaranteed.

The duo has compelling reasons to kick off the IPL strongly. Rohit aims to justify faith from BCCI and selectors, making a case beyond franchise captaincy. Kohli seeks to silence strike-rate critics, securing his World Cup spot and reviving chants of  “Ee Sala Cup Namde.”

IPL 2024 thus has the potential to be a game-changer for the future of Indian cricket, particularly in the shortest format.

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