Departure of big guns gives space to groom players for 2026 WC

India's Virat Kohli, left, and captain Rohit Sharma pose with the winners trophy after defeating South Africa in the ICC Men's T20 World Cup final cricket match at Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados, Saturday, June 29, 2024.
India's Virat Kohli, left, and captain Rohit Sharma pose with the winners trophy after defeating South Africa in the ICC Men's T20 World Cup final cricket match at Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados, Saturday, June 29, 2024.

Bridgetown (Barbados) | The T20 retirement of Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja marks the end of an era in Indian cricket but they got their timing spot on, giving the selectors and the incoming team management enough time to plan for the World Cup at home in 2026.

A day after Rohit and Kohli moved away from the T20Is with the coveted World Cup trophy in hand, Jadeja followed their footsteps, quite expectedly.

Finding replacements for these three match-winners in the playing eleven is bound to take time. But the transition phase will start as early as next week when a second-string Indian team faces Zimbabwe in five T20Is from July 6.

Hardik Pandya, who has been rested from the series, is expected to succeed Rohit as the T20I skipper and will be tracking the progress of the fringe players during his well-deserved break.

“The 2026 T20 World Cup is a long time away. Very happy for Rohit and Virat. Two giants of Indian cricket who thoroughly deserved this,” said Hardik after holding his nerve with the ball in the final over on Saturday against South Africa.

For the two opening slots that Rohit and Kohli have vacated, the options are plenty.

As many as four openers are part of the India squad for the Zimbabwe tour -- Yashavsi Jaiswal, who was a part of the World Cup winning unit, Shubman Gill, Ruturaj Gaikwad and Abhishek Sharma.

In all likelihood, Gill and Jaiswal will open the batting in the first T20I in Harare on Saturday.

Jadeja’s retirement, on other hand, elevates Axar Patel as the leading spin-bowling all-rounder in the Indian team.

It would be fair to say that Axar has already performed that role in the World Cup as he was used as a floater in the middle-order and, at times, was given the tough task of bowling in the powerplay.

His 47 off 31 balls in the final against SA allowed India to recover from a poor powerplay. He had also produced a man-of-the-match performance in the semi-final against England.

But Jadeja bowled the least number of overs among the spinners and batted in the lower-order where did not have much to do.

His retirement will give injury prone Washginton Sundar more opportunities in the T20 setup.

Abhishek is an opener but given the plethora of options at the top, he has a better chance of establishing himself as a spin all-rounder in the middle-order.

The BCCI president and the 1983 World Cup winner Roger Binny, who witnessed India winning their second T20 World Cup title at the Kensington Oval, remained optimistic about the future.

“There is so much talent in the IPL. Lot of cricketers are coming through but it is going to take some time to bridge the gap (after the retirement of Rohit and Kohli from T20Is),” Binny told PTI.

“They have contributed so much. It’s going to take time. We will probably see in the next two-three years, the team coming back into its own without them,” he added.

Following the high-profile retirements of the accomplished trio, the series in Zimbabwe assumes more significance, as it will provide a peek into India’s T20 future.

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