Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma have made invaluable contributions to Indian cricket for over a decade. However, performances by youngsters in the T20 Internationals (T20Is) this year have sparked a contentious debate — should India prefer young blood over experience in the shortest format of the game? Since India’s defeat in the 2022 T20 World Cup semi-final against England, the 35-year-old Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, 36, have not played T20Is. Their absence, rather than causing a void, has been filled by a crop of young talent which coincided with a series of victories for the Men in Blue.
Notably, India clinched a three-match series in New Zealand late last year, secured the gold medal at the Asian Games and recently registered a 4-1 series win over Australia. The youngsters have also helped India solidify their position as the top-ranked team in the format.
Kohli and Sharma’s credentials are impeccable and their track record certainly makes a case for their inclusion in the 2024 T20 World Cup in the United States and West Indies. However, the Indian team has handed nearly a dozen T20I debuts since the 2022 T20 World Cup. Among these fresh faces, the emergence of Ruturaj Gaikwad, Shubman Gill, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Ishan Kishan, Rinku Singh, and Tilak Varma has been nothing but exceptional.
These young guns, all aged 26 or below, have proven themselves worthy of regular places in the playing XI and not just a few sporadic appearances.
Rinku Singh, for instance, looks ready to take on the role of a finisher. The 26-year-old played three cameos in differing situations in the series against Australia. He took the team over the line with a last-ball six in the first T20I before helping the team register 235 in the second T20I by striking 31 off 9.
Openers Yashasvi Jaiswal and Ruturaj Gaikwad, meanwhile, enabled India to register strong starts in the series. Gaikwad, with 223 runs, was the leading run-scorer in the series while Jaiswal scored 138 runs at the top.
Ishan Kishan and Tilak Varma have also been among the runs this year and played crucial knocks in the middle order in both domestic and international competitions.
As India gears up for the impending tour to South Africa, the inclusion of these young guns in the white-ball squad along with the likes of Sai Sudharsan — who impressed in the IPL representing Gujarat Titans — underscores a shift in the team’s dynamics. At the same time, Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma will play only in the Test series, giving the impression that Indian selectors are ready to alter the complexion of India’s squad for the T20 World Cup squad next year.
While the temptation to build something resembling MS Dhoni’s young side that managed to achieve in the 2007 T20 World Cup is understandable, the balance between experience and youth remains crucial.
Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma were the leading run-scorers in the ODI World Cup and their presence on the pitch still hands India a massive psychological advantage.
The Indian captain scored 597 runs in the World Cup at a strike rate of over 125, hitting 31 sixes. He was the only player to hit more than 25 sixes in the 2023 World Cup. Kohli played like a run machine and became the first batter in the history of World Cups to score more than 700 runs in a single edition.
Utilising the experience of Kohli and Sharma alongside the exuberance of budding talents could also be the ideal concoction for Indian cricket’s success in the T20 World Cup next year.