The talk ahead of the second T20 International between India and Sri Lanka, being played at Indore’s Holkar Stadium, was all about the return of talismanic fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah. Playing his first International game since August due to a forced injury break, the lanky pacer from Gujarat hit the ground running almost immediately, clocking speeds in excess of 140 clicks while maintaining his trademark consistency.

Bumrah’s return to International cricket, however, was overshadowed by the stellar performances from pace duo Shardul Thakur and Navdeep Saini, who accounted for more than half of Sri Lanka’s wickets in Indore. Saini picked up the crucial wickets of Danuska Gunathilaka and Bhanuka Rajapaksa just when the Lankans were looking to take the game away from the Indians.

Saini’s first wicket was a fierce yorker that beat the batsman all ends up, and he followed that up with a wicked bouncer that earned him a second wicket. His figures of 2/18 is his second-best return in International cricket and his economy rate of 4.50 is also commendable, considering it was the shortest format of the game. His blistering pace and ability to make batsmen hurry on their shots makes him a solid seam option for India come the T20 World Cup in October.

Mumbai seamer Shardul Thakur also showed his class in the second T20 International against Sri Lanka. Although he was hit for a few boundaries in the powerplay overs, the 28-year-old made a strong comeback with three wickets in his final over and an economy rate under six. Bowling the penultimate over of the game, Thakur conceded just three runs and accounted for the wickets of Dhananjaya de Silva, Isuru Udana and skipper Lasith Malinga. His myriad variations and calm demeanour in the death overs make him an ideal candidate to be in the reckoning for India’s squad at a big tournament like the T20 World Cup.

With Thakur and Saini impressing against Sri Lanka, the selectors are now finding themselves in a fresh conundrum, that is, a ‘problem of plenty’ for their T20 World Cup squad selection. 

End of the road for Bhuvneshwar?

With the three-match T20 series against Sri Lanka sandwiched between a longer bilateral series against West Indies and Australia, the Indian selectors have decided to give a few regulars like Mohammed Shami and Rohit Sharma some quality rest. Swing bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who is currently recuperating from a groin injury, paved the way for Saini for this series.

Deepak Chahar and Khaleel Ahmed also remain in the mix to be drafted into India’s pace bowling battalion. The former recorded the best-ever figures by a bowler in the recently concluded T20 International series against Bangladesh, while the latter remains India’s only left-arm swing bowling option. Chahar and Khaleel have delivered whenever they are drafted into the team, and an ouster from the squad at this stage would be incredibly harsh on them.

That being said, the harsh truth remains that only three places are up for grabs in the team for fast bowlers, and one spot is inevitably reserved for Jasprit Bumrah. Mohammed Shami ended 2019 as the leading wicket-taker in ODI games with 42, and has maintained that form in the shortest format of the game, as well. An able custodian with the new ball as well as at the death, Shami’s consistency has been remarkable and will be beneficial on the bouncy tracks of Australia come October.

Thus, the one player who could find himself out of the running of the Indian T20 setup is Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Despite being India’s marquee limited overs bowler for the past few years, the 29-year-old has struggled to perform well in T20 Internationals in 2019. Kumar played nine T20 games last year, but picked up only eight wickets at a bowling average of 33.87. His economy has also suffered a hit last year, with the variations and slower deliveries not as deceptive as they used to be.

With Saini and Thakur hogging the limelight with their impressive returns for the Indian team, the end for Bhuvneshwar Kumar in T20 Internationals could be the inevitable future.

Feature image courtesy: Sajjad Hussain/ AFP