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T20I series against Zimbabwe at right time for India to kick on transition period, says Saba Karim

T20I series against Zimbabwe at right time for India to kick on transition period, says Saba Karim

New Delhi, July 4 (SocialNews.XYZ) The retirements of Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, and Ravindra Jadeja after the 2024 Men's T20 World Cup triumph give India a chance to find their replacements and develop a player pool for their title defence in 2026. While the victorious World Cup team is enjoying enthusiastic receptions from delighted fans in New Delhi and Mumbai, a new-look squad captained by Shubman Gill is gearing up to compete against Zimbabwe in a five-match T20I series in Harare beginning on July 6.

The series offers both new and familiar faces the chance to establish themselves in the national men’s T20I team. Saba Karim, the ex-India wicketkeeper-batter, has worn many hats - as a national selector, talent scout, broadcaster, and BCCI GM, Cricket Operations.


In an exclusive interview with IANS, facilitated by Sony Sports Network, Karim discusses the potential of India using the Zimbabwe tour as a foundation in building a team for the 2026 T20 World Cup.

He also addresses the challenges that Shubman Gill may encounter in captaining India for the first time in international cricket and the composition of the various departments for the series. Excerpts:

Q. Post the T20 World Cup triumph, how do you view this series against Zimbabwe from an Indian perspective in kick-starting the team’s evolution for future big events?

A. I think this is absolutely the right time to kick on the transition period in the Indian T20 side. There are so many youngsters in the frame now who will be part of this series and it will be a great opportunity for the selectors to have a look at them. So far, if you look at the national selectors, one can see a pattern.

They do have a vision and are looking ahead to invest in some of these cricketers, whom they still feel are capable of making a mark in the T20 format. That is why they’ve been given some more opportunities through this Zimbabwe series.

There are some players who are newcomers to this format for the national side. So it’s a very good mix of some experienced T20 international cricketers along with some of the so-called domestic and IPL performers. So I think this is a pretty well-balanced setup.

Q. As someone who’s been a part of the selection committee previously, can you talk about the thought process of the selectors to identify players for the future and nurture them through tours like the upcoming Zimbabwe series?

A. See, the role of the selector is to find the right kind of combination. So once you have the slot determined, then it’s just easy to fill in that kind of slot with the available players. For instance, for the opening slot, you may have three or four openers in your mind and you want to try out all of them in different conditions against different kind of opposition.

That gives you a clear picture as to who can fit the bill when it comes to the bigger games and events like the World Cup. I think that is the kind of vision that the selectors need to have. I’m sure Ajit and the company are looking into that. That is why if you notice, there are a number of openers in this line-up.

Like, you have Yashasvi Jaiswal, who joins the team later, and then you have Ruturaj Gaikwad, Shubman Gill, and Abhishek Sharma. So there are so many aspirants for the opening and top-order slots, for which the kind of planning selectors will have to do is the key.

Similarly, for pace bowlers, there are so many hopefuls in this Indian line-up, like Mukesh Kumar, Avesh Khan, and Khaleel Ahmed. So I think that’s what the selectors are trying to do now - they want to try out all these younger generation cricketers whom they feel that going forward, they can come up and do well for the national side.

Q. This is the first time Shubman Gill will be leading the Indian team for the first time in international cricket. What are the challenges you foresee for him on the leadership front in Zimbabwe?

A. For a couple of seasons, Shubman Gill has always been deemed to be an all-format player. It was rather unfortunate that Shubman Gill missed out on the recent T20 World Cup, although he was part of the traveling side as a reserve. All that happened because Rohit and Virat decided to open, with Yashasvi Jaiswal being a left-handed opener.

Even before that, whenever Jaiswal has been given an opportunity to play for India, he has done very well. So this is a good platform for Shubman Gill to show his credentials once again and say that he can fit the bill as a top-order batter in T20Is.

There is no doubt about him in terms of one-day cricket and Test matches. But it is in T20Is that he really needs to come good again. In terms of captaincy, I feel he does have the right kind of credentials. He has shown some maturity while captaining Gujarat Titans in the IPL.

But it’s still a very evolving phase for Shubman Gill. I personally feel at this stage, it is more important for him to focus on his batting; then captaincy, in any case, will come very naturally to him. But he does have a sound mind and thinks ahead.

He gets along well with his colleagues on and off the field. Being in the dressing room with Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli and so many other experienced cricketers, along with Rahul David, I am sure he has learned a lot. For all that to happen, we will have to wait and watch this upcoming Zimbabwe series.

Q. With Jaiswal arriving late and Shubman being the captain, who do you think can fit in as openers and number three batter?

A. There is a strong chance that Shubman can come in at number three and you can push Ruturaj Gaikwad and Abhishek Sharma to the opening slots. In my opinion, the Indian selectors are aiming to fill three top-order slots - two openers and number three.

So it depends on the kind of strategy and the combination the selectors are looking at and I think all three of them can be part of the playing eleven in this T20 series. Maybe Shubman can open along with Abhishek, and you can see Ruturaj coming in at number three, which is the kind of picture I have in my mind.

Q. In terms of the middle-order options, quite a few names are there like Rinku Singh, Dhruv Jurel, and Riyan Parag, with Sanju Samson and Shivam Dube coming in later. How do you reckon would be the make-up of the middle order here?

A. VVS (Laxman, the head coach in Zimbabwe) and Shubman will be looking to have a solid combination for the first two T20Is. For the latter part, I am sure the other players who are part of the Indian team now will be able to join. But I think all those who are part of the national set-up, need to get into the playing eleven.

Rinku Singh is there, and when Dube, Jaiswal, and Samson come in, they will be slotted. So that’s the kind of combination I am looking at. I am sure Dhruv Jurel may get an opportunity. But if the Indian team is looking at a batter who can come in at number five or six, maybe we will see him at that number.

Riyan Parag is another very promising cricketer who may be given an opportunity in the same position. So there are a number of options available for VVS and Shubman to decide on the middle-order.

Q. The T20I retirement of Ravindra Jadeja means there’s a spin-bowling slot freed up in the Indian team. With Axar Patel and Kuldeep Yadav rested, how important is this series from that context for Washington Sundar and Ravi Bishnoi?

A. I think both of them offer a lot of variations. But if you look at the setup of the current T20 side, the Indian team is looking to have more depth in their batting lineup. That’s where Washington Sundar can come in very handy. We have Axar Patel now who has done so well in the T20 World Cup.

So if he comes in at number seven, the Indian team would be looking to get another all-rounder in the mix. I think that’s where Washington Sundar can be very handy with the bat, as you also have Kuldeep Yadav.

So right now, both Washington and Ravi Bishnoi will be very keen to do well and prove that they have the right kind of credentials to play for the national side. But as I said, it all depends on the type of combination the selectors and team management are looking at.

Q. There are a lot of options in the fast-bowling department – Mukesh Kumar, Avesh Khan, Khaleel Ahmed, and Tushar Deshpande. What is the likely fast-bowling combination you see being fielded for this series?

A. In Zimbabwe conditions, maybe I feel Shubman and VVS may prefer to play three-seam bowlers. So, Mukesh Kumar would be my first pick, followed by Avesh and Khaleel as they were part of the traveling side for the Indian team in the T20 World Cup.

In whatever opportunities Mukesh Kumar has received while playing for the national side, he has done exceedingly well in all three formats, and he’s a much-improved bowler. So, I see all three of them playing in the Zimbabwe series.

Q. Who are the players from this newish-looking Zimbabwe team India should be wary of?

A. Sikandar Raza as the captain has been phenomenal and plays all the Global T20 Leagues. So he has enough experience of doing well against top-quality sides. Whenever I have interacted with Raza, it gives me the impression that he really works very hard on his game, as well as understands the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition.

He did quite well in the recently completed series against Bangladesh, though Zimbabwe lost it. I am also looking at Brian Bennett, another top-order batter who did well against Bangladesh (135 runs). The biggest void to be filled by Zimbabwe would be to fill the absence of Sean Williams and Craig Erwine.

Both of them have been exceptional for Zimbabwe, but now, they are not part of the team. It also means that Zimbabwe are also looking to build a team for the future. They also have a Belgian-born Pakistani cricketer (Antum Naqvi) who is also part of the setup.

We will have to wait and see whether or not he will be allowed to play because of his residential status. Their pace bowlers are quite steady and very disciplined, especially Muzarabani, who’s got a lot of experience. So I think all these players would be forces to reckon with for Zimbabwe.

India’s tour of Zimbabwe will be broadcast live from July 6, 4:30 PM IST onwards, on Sony Sports Ten 5 SD & HD, Sony Sports Ten 3 SD & HD (Hindi), Sony Sports Ten 4 SD & HD (Tamil & Telugu).

Source: IANS

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T20I series against Zimbabwe at right time for India to kick on transition period, says Saba Karim

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