Team India are enjoying a good run in T20I cricket under Rohit Sharma, whose captaincy tenure has been practically spotless so far. The Men in Blue recently cruised into the Super 4 stage of the 2022 Asia Cup following wins over Pakistan and Hong Kong, and are definitely the favorites to clinch the continental crown.
India are also among the favorites for the T20 World Cup, to be held in Australia later this year. Most teams are close to finalizing their squads for the marquee ICC event, with the hosts having named a formidable 15-man squad. Most of India's 15 pick themselves, even if a few places are still up for grabs.
Surprisingly, India have reached a place where some of their longest-serving players might not be the ideal personnel for the T20 World Cup. Former skipper Virat Kohli's attacking game against spin has deteriorated to such an extent that there are questions over his place in the side, while KL Rahul has steadfastly refused to change his outdated approach to batting in the shortest format.
In this article, we attempt to rank India's three most important players in T20I cricket. The players' skillsets, combined with the availability of replacements, have been taken into account.
#3 Jasprit Bumrah
It might be a surprise to see Jasprit Bumrah at No. 3 on this list. Undoubtedly one of the best all-format bowlers in the world, the speedster is worth his weight in gold in T20 cricket. He guarantees economical overs and wicket-taking threat at any stage of the innings, with his unmatched prowess at the death having won India several games over the years.
Bumrah is facing a race against time to be fit for the T20 World Cup, having been ruled out of the Asia Cup due to injury. His skillset will be crucial for the Men in Blue in Australia, especially with other experienced pacers like Mohammad Shami no longer in the T20I picture.
Bumrah is invaluable to the Indian team, even if they have a few capable death bowlers in the form of Harshal Patel (who is also recovering from injury) and Arshdeep Singh. The four overs he bowls simply cannot be replaced by any other player, but the two men who follow are arguably more important.
#2 Suryakumar Yadav
It might seem strange to claim that a man who has played only 25 T20Is in his career is India's second-most important player in the format, but that's just what Suryakumar Yadav is. Having amassed 758 runs in these matches at an average of 39.89 and a strike rate of 177.52, the stylish right-handed batter is the team's man for all seasons and situations.
Suryakumar has taken to T20I cricket like a duck to water, playing a plethora of crucial cameos and even converting a few of his starts into big scores. He has been able to get going from the word go against all types of bowling, even when his peers have struggled to put bat to ball. Amid a top four that struggles to put their foot on the pedal against spin, the 31-year-old's outrageous range of strokes and dextrous wrists stand out.
India simply can't do without Suryakumar right now. He is the man who injects the most momentum into the innings, and he is the man whose game can be trusted to come good against any opposition. Other middle-order batters like Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, Deepak Hooda and Sanju Samson have their strengths, but unlike Suryakumar, they have clear weaknesses. SKY is irreplaceable.
#1 Hardik Pandya
Was there any doubt as to who'd top the list? Ever since making his return from injury on the back of a title-winning Indian Premier League season as the captain of the Gujarat Titans (GT), Hardik Pandya has soon molded himself into India's most important player in T20I cricket.
India don't have anyone who can bring to the table what Hardik does. Four overs at various stages of the innings, accurate short-pitched bowling to produce wickets when the pitches aren't overly helpful, electric fielding all around the park, six-hitting at will, prowess against both spin and pace on both sides of the wicket - the 28-year-old can do it all.
The closest India can come to replacing Hardik is either Deepak Chahar or Shardul Thakur, but the duo's batting is not even on the same planet. On recent form, even their bowling may not come close. The Men in Blue need to wrap Hardik up in cotton wool and treat him with utmost care, for the T20I side will crumble instantly without him.
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