With India's senior white-ball players taking a break from T20Is in an ODI World Cup year, several youngsters have been given a chance under Hardik Pandya's captaincy. And despite the absence of their stars, India continued their dominance at home, beating both Sri Lanka and New Zealand 2-1. Here are India's major takeaways from those two T20I series.
Shubman Gill shows off his T20 skills
T20 was considered to be Shubman Gill's weakest format, and there were questions about his place as an opener, considering the explosive Prithvi Shaw was waiting on the bench. In his first five T20Is of 2023, Gill had scored only 76 runs, but in the series decider against New Zealand in Ahmedabad , he showed the world he could excel in the shortest format as well.
Gill launched seven sixes, the highlight being a one-handed loft over long-off off Blair Tickner. Against Mitchell Santner, he dashed out of the crease and pumped him into the sightscreen. With an unbeaten 126 off 63 balls - India's highest score in T20Is - Gill has arrived as an all-format batter and increased the competition for places among India's T20I openers.
Hardik Pandya's new (ball) role
Captain. Anchor. MS Dhoni-like finisher. Middle-overs enforcer with the ball. Hardik has juggled and aced different roles in T20 cricket of late. Now, in the absence of Jasprit Bumrah, he took the new ball in all six T20Is against Sri Lanka and New Zealand.
In the third game against New Zealand, Hardik smartly stayed away from fuller lengths on a pitch that, according to him, became "spicier" in the evening. He ended up dismissing Finn Allen and Glenn Phillips with hard lengths. Even in the Indore ODI, when had India rested their frontline quicks, Hardik had done the job with the new ball. At the moment, Hardik is officially only a stand-in captain for Rohit Sharma, but he's won two T20I series this year and was Player of the Series against New Zealand too.
Rahul Tripathi tees off
In the third T20I against New Zealand, Rahul Tripathi, like Gill, also scored at two runs a ball, smashing 44 off 22 balls. But it was Tripathi's early aggression that gave Gill the freedom to pace his innings. He fearlessly and selflessly hit the ball over the top - both in front of the wicket and behind it in the powerplay - like he usually does in the IPL. Tripathi's attacking intent and innovative strokeplay was also on show during his 16-ball 35 against Sri Lanka in Rajkot last month. Head coach Rahul Dravid recently suggested that India haven't moved on yet from Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli in T20Is, and that the two are just taking a break. But with a little more consistency, Tripathi will present a strong case to be a T20I regular - with or without the seniors.
Kuldeep ahead of Chahal?
Here we go again. Kuldeep Yadav didn't play the T20Is against Sri Lanka, but he grabbed his chance against New Zealand: taking two wickets in nine overs at an economy rate of 5.44. If India's recent white-ball games are an indicator, then Kuldeep seems to have edged ahead of Yuzvendra Chahal as India's first-choice wristspinner.
Former India spinner and chief selector Sunil Joshi had told ESPNcricinfo earlier this week that he would pick Kuldeep over Chahal in India's squad for the upcoming ODI World Cup in October-November. The T20 World Cup in the Caribbean and USA is still 16 months away, but the early signs are that Kuldeep is ahead of Chahal in the T20I pecking order too.
Washington Sundar's white-ball potential
In the absence of Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel, Washington Sundar took his chance - both with ball and bat - against New Zealand. He was benched for the T20Is against Sri Lanka and only had a peripheral role to play in the following ODI series against New Zealand, but he played a crucial hand in India winning the T20I series. According to ESPNcricinfo's Smart Stats, Washington with 168 points was the MVP of the series, ahead of even Gill (162.8).
In the first T20I in Ranchi, he bowled un-hittable lengths in the powerplay before scoring a 28-ball 50 from No. 6. His captain Hardik was so impressed with his all-round show that he said the narrative of the match quickly turned into Washington vs New Zealand.
When Washington was growing up in Chennai, he was tipped to become the next big opening batter from the city, like M Vijay or Abhinav Mukund. But he has now gone the Dinesh Karthik way and is working towards becoming a specialist finisher in T20 cricket.
Ishan Kishan's form fizzles out
In the absence of KL Rahul, Sanju Samson and Rishabh Pant, Ishan Kishan had a golden opportunity to enhance his claim to be India's first-choice T20I wicketkeeper. It was only in December that he had smashed the fastest double-century in ODI cricket, but since then his returns have plummeted. In the T20I series against Sri Lanka and New Zealand, Kishan's struggles against spin were evident: he managed just 29 runs off 43 balls against spinners while getting out three times. In all, he tallied 64 runs across six innings at a strike rate of 84.21. With India searching for an opener who can give them blazing starts, Kishan's performance may force them to look elsewhere.