India only has six more T20Is to go before the 2024 T20 World Cup, so these two middle-order hits don’t have much time to make their case for being picked.
India has been looking for big hitters in the middle order of their T20 team who don’t waste balls trying to get an edge, and two of them have been hiding in plain sight.
Wicketkeeper and hitter Jitesh Sharma has a lot of experience and has done really well since joining the India team. Around the middle of the IPL 2023 season, he was the third-fastest scorer in T20 cricket since 2021 in games of less than 30 balls. At a strike rate of 150 or more, only two hitters were able to score 30 runs or more more often than him. No one who came out to bat in the second half of a T20 game scored as fast as he did (194 runs per over). The most interesting thing about Jitesh is how well he hits: from No. 4 onwards, he averages 37 and hits at 177.
Everyone was shocked when Rinku Singh hit five sixes in five balls to win a match that couldn’t be won. But that finish didn’t just happen. In the IPL, he hits 142 runs per game on average, and in local T20s, he hits 32 runs per game on average. He may have been ahead of Jitesh in the world rankings because he bats with his left hand, and he has not let anyone down. Rinku has an average of 60 and a hit rate of 188 after 10 T20Is.
The Indian team didn’t pick Jitesh very often; even after being picked in the 15-person group, he only played in the last two of the five T20Is against Australia. He hit 35 off of 19 balls and 24 off of 16 balls in those games.
It’s not a good idea to completely change the foreign team based on how well they do in the IPL for a season or two. T20 form can change quickly, so it’s best to cash in when things are going well. However, it’s also easy to see why India’s coaches and team management might not be sure about these batters’ international potential after just two IPL seasons. They have seen that with Dinesh Karthik, Deepak Hooda, and Varun Chakravarthy picks in the past.
With the World Cup in mind, the three T20Is in South Africa are very important for Jitesh and Rinku. Other than Anrich Nortje (who is hurt) and Kagiso Rabada (who is on rest), South Africa will have a strong XI for all three T20Is. A ball that bounces will also make it hard for the hitters. This is exactly the kind of test Rinku and Jitesh need to do well in order to show the judges and team management how good they are.
Any way you look at it, there may not be room for both in the starting eleven or even the World Cup team. The camp’s theme is one of conservatism. Rahit Sharma could be back as captain of the T20I team. If so, someone will have to be very brave to say that Virat Kohli is not playing. That means the wicketkeeper has to be a No. 5. Jitesh could play against KL Rahul, who has shown he can do that job before.
That means Rinku can only play if India puts him at No. 7, since Hardik Pandya will be at No. 6 if he is healthy. But Rinku at No. 7 leaves only four expert bowlers after him, so if one of them has a bad day, none of them can.
Indian leaders might call what we call “conservative” “valuing experience,” which is a good thing: Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians’ long-term success in the IPL shows how valuable experience is in T20.
So, even though Rinku and Jitesh did great in the IPL and got off to a great start in their international careers, they need to prove their worth to the team management and coaches in South Africa before the series starts. It’s not just during the games either. When they are training, they can also be put to the test against the sidearm to see how good they are.
For now, it’s possible that neither of them will make the T20 World Cup team, or there will be room for both. You hope that what they do in South Africa, not what the senior players do for their IPL teams, determines whether they will play for India in the World Cup.