With the Indian Premier League (IPL) capturing the attention of fans, experts, and selectors for over two months, the lucrative extravaganza seems to have become the primary testing ground for T20 World Cup selection, even as international matches in the shortest format take a backseat.

India’s last international assignment was a three-match T20I series against Afghanistan in January at home that saw the return of Rohit Sharma as captain and Virat Kohli to the fold in the shortest format. The duo had not featured in a single T20I since India’s defeat in the semifinal of the T20 World Cup in November 2022, following which it looked like the national team was eyeing a major overhaul, with Hardik Pandya assuming the reins.

Still, India only played 20 T20Is in the 12 months leading to this year’s T20 World Cup and 28 since the last global tournament. Contrastingly, in 2022, India had featured in 40 matches in the year leading to the T20 World Cup and had played 35 games since its group stage exit at the 2021 showpiece event. There was less than a year gap between the 2021 and 2022 editions.

With India’s last T20I series coming more than four months out from this year’s World Cup, beginning in June, the IPL naturally assumed greater significance.

This view was particularly vindicated when Rinku Singh didn’t find a place in India’s squad for the World Cup in the United States and West Indies following an IPL season that paled in comparison to the breakout tournament he had last year. However, his batting position for Kolkata Knight Riders was an overbearing factor that played into Rinku’s lukewarm returns. In 82 balls faced in eight innings, the southpaw struck 123 runs at a strike rate of 150 while batting at No. 6 and 7 six times.

But preceding the IPL this year, Rinku had a stellar run for India, which was on the lookout for a bonafide finisher in the run-up to the T20 World Cup. Since his India debut in August last year, Rinku has scored 356 runs in 11 innings at a strike rate of 176.23, the best return for any Indian batter with more than 10 runs during this period.

Ajit Agarkar, the chairman of the national selection panel, admitted dropping Rinku was a harsh call.

“It’s probably the toughest thing that we have had to discuss, frankly. He has done nothing wrong, nor has Shubman Gill, for that matter. It’s the combinations. We are not quite sure what conditions we’ll get, so we wanted to try and try and have enough options… It’s just unfortunate. I don’t think it’s anything to do with Rinku Singh,” he said.

Interestingly, six out of India’s 10 highest run-scorers in the 12 months before the World Cup didn’t find a place in the provisional squad, with selectors prioritising recent form in the IPL over performances on the international stage.

Ruturaj Gaikwad, Rinku, Tilak Varma, Ishan Kishan, Shubman, and Jitesh Sharma all missed out on a ticket to the USA and the West Indies, while Shivam Dube’s spin-hitting abilities in the middle overs secured his place on the flight despite the left-hander playing only eight out of the 20 international T20s in the past year.

“We picked the guy (Dube) based on what he did in the IPL and a few games before the IPL as well,” Agarkar said. To be fair, Dube’s scintillating form in the IPL was hard to ignore, with the left-hander amassing 350 runs in 10 matches at a stunning strike rate of over 170.

With India seemingly hitting the reset button post the 10-wicket semifinal defeat against England at the 2022 T20 World Cup, the experienced trio of Rohit, Kohli, and Ravindra Jadeja featured in only seven matches between them out of the 28 T20Is the team played in the current cycle (November 2022–January 2024).

Despite the lack of international gametime in the shortest format, Kohli’s returns in the IPL, combined with his experience handling big-match pressure, were enough for him to seize a World Cup spot. Meanwhile, Jadeja, who wasn’t selected for the T20Is against Afghanistan in January and played just two games since the 2022 T20 World Cup, was also back in the scheme of things despite a lukewarm season with Chennai Super Kings. On the other hand, Washington Sundar, India’s preferred spin-bowling all-rounder, along with Axar Patel, fell out of the national reckoning after an Impact Player-ravaged IPL season that has seen him play just two games so far.

Though there is merit in accounting for performances in arguably the world’s most competitive T20 league, it has become increasingly difficult to contextualise international T20 matches, where the rules and quality of the opposition teams more accurately mirror the prevailing conditions at World Cups.

A case in point is leg-spinner Ravi Bishnoi, who emerged as India’s lead spinner in the period between the last T20 World Cup and the one that looms. He picked up 20 wickets in 14 matches and rose to the top of the global bowling ranks in this phase, but missed World Cup selection after managing only six scalps in 10 matches in the IPL for Lucknow Super Giants.

Bishnoi had overshadowed fellow leggie Yuzvendra Chahal with his recent performances in India colours. But the latter pipped him to the World Cup squad with a higher wickets tally for Rajasthan Royals in the ongoing IPL season, albeit at a higher economy rate.

Deserving candidate: Rickelton was the leading run-scorer in the SA20 and the second-highest run-scorer at the recent CSA T20 Challenge.

Deserving candidate: Rickelton was the leading run-scorer in the SA20 and the second-highest run-scorer at the recent CSA T20 Challenge.
| Photo Credit:
Ryan Rickleton – Instagram


Deserving candidate: Rickelton was the leading run-scorer in the SA20 and the second-highest run-scorer at the recent CSA T20 Challenge.
| Photo Credit:
Ryan Rickleton – Instagram

It’s not just India that is increasingly turning to its franchise T20 league when making national selection calls. South Africa, having played just five T20Is in the last 12 months and eight since the last T20 World Cup, banked on the performances of the newly founded SA20 to shape up its squad.

With the three-match T20I series in India in December last year being its last international assignment ahead of the World Cup, South Africa picked the most prolific batter and the second-highest wicket-taker of the subsequent SA20 tournament, Ryan Rickelton and Ottniel Baartman, respectively, in its T20 World Cup contingent. Both Rickelton and Baartman have yet to make their T20I debuts.

A lot has been said about restricting One-Day International cricket to ICC tournaments. And now, with T20 franchise leagues taking precedence and teams increasingly fielding second-string sides in international games in the shortest format, a similar case could be made for T20Is.