Team India will take the field for the first time since a disappointing semifinal exit at the T20 World Cup when they take on New Zealand in a three-match T20I series beginning Friday, November 18.
In the absence of regular skipper Rohit Sharma, who has been rested, all-rounder Hardik Pandya will lead the Men in Blue. KL Rahul and Virat Kohli are among the others who have been rested from this tour, with a three-match ODI series set to follow the T20Is.
With the growing cry for a changed outlook in selection towards the T20I format, it remains to be seen if India choose to experiment or stick to a predictable playing combination. Here is India's predicted playing XI for the series opener at the Sky Stadium in Wellington.
Openers - Shubman Gill and Ishan Kishan
Yet to be capped at the international level in the shortest format, Shubman Gill could well make his debut on Friday at the Sky Stadium. Having set the stage alight in ODIs, Gill could be looked at as the anchor for the innings with southpaw Ishan Kishan adding firepower at the top.
Gill is one of the few specialist openers selected in the squad too and this could see him make his debut, even as Sanju Samson presents another opening option.
Middle Order - Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav and Rishabh Pant (wk)
Shreyas Iyer was on the list of standbys for the T20 World Cup and should make the XI at No. 3. While Deepak Hooda, who also scored a century in Ireland earlier in the year, was part of the World Cup, the Indian team management has worn a confused look over his ideal batting position. The fact that he has been used as a batter who offers something with the ball could see him miss the cut in the presence of enough bowling options.
It is a no-brainer that the top-ranked T20I batter on the planet, Suryakumar Yadav, will take the No. 4 spot. This leaves Rishabh Pant, the vice-captain, to slot in right after him as he seeks to stake a claim for a permanent spot in the XI.
All-rounders - Hardik Pandya (c) and Washington Sundar
India's skipper for this series, Pandya batted at No. 5 in the semifinal of the T20 World Cup against England. While that remains a possibility again based on the situation of the game, the lack of a bona fide finishing option might force him to take up the role at No. 6 behind Pant.
Washington Sundar makes a return to the setup and should make the cut in the starting XI. His bowling has been unquestionable every time he has donned Indian colors, although his power game with the bat has left a lot to be desired.
That said, there's a good chance he could slot in at No. 7 given the need to identify a potential successor for Ravindra Jadeja in the future. Add the fact that he trumps Hooda on bowling skill and that the latter has looked like a fish out of water batting lower down the order, and Sundar should slot in comfortably.
Bowlers - Harshal Patel, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Yuzvendra Chahal and Arshdeep Singh
Each of the names in this quartet was part of India's T20 World Cup setup. While Harshal and Chahal didn't get a game, you would expect the team to turn to them immediately and occupy the spots vacated by Mohammad Shami and Ravichandran Ashwin.
Arshdeep Singh has already established himself as India's best death bowler in the format today in the absence of Jasprit Bumrah. There are a couple of exciting quick bowling options on the bench in the form of Umran Malik and Mohammed Siraj, while Kuldeep Yadav is the other spinner in the ranks.
Despite the growing call for an overhaul in the shortest format, though, one can expect the Men in Blue to stick to their pecking-order philosophy. This could result in Malik, Siraj and Kuldeep having to wait for their turn.
What do you reckon India's playing XI against New Zealand will look like? Let us know in the comments section below!
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