Welcome to India’s 30+ club in the T20s
Even before India's first T20 against Australia, there's been some forced flushing out of players largely because of injury. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ajinkya Rahane are out. Neither of them is central to the plot as they're still in their 20s. The mainstays of the 30s theme are captain Dhoni, and two left arm bowlers, Ashish Nehra and Yuvraj Singh.
Yuvraj, a bowler? Yes. When Yuvraj last played for India in the 2014 edition of the World Twenty20, he hardly bowled. One over to be precise against Pakistan, 13 runs off it, and that was that - in the five games that followed, Yuvraj did not once turn his arm over. Incidentally, in the first edition of the World T20 in 2007 (in South Africa), Yuvraj bowled in just one match - three overs, and went for nearly 13 an over. Has Dhoni worked it out with his astrologers that Yuvi should only bowl once in the World T20 for India to win it?
However, Yuvraj bowled much more in the 2012 World T20 in Sri Lanka (which naturally India didn't win) - 13.4 overs to be exact, in five matches grabbing eight wickets; the T20 world meet was followed by five T20s in India where Yuvi bowled 13 overs grabbing seven wickets.
Whether Yuvraj bowls or for that matter even plays in the coming World T20 will be determined by how he does in Australia, and in the excess of T20s that follow. Will he make it that far? Many may question his inclusion but once he's in the team, aren't you just hoping he takes flight?
To make good of his selection, will Yuvraj have to bowl an over or two? Where will he bat - before Dhoni or after, will India look at him as a wham-bang impact hitter, coming in towards the end, that elusive finisher? Can India afford to put him through the going-nowhere innings of that last final in Dhaka? (11 off 21, you remember?)
Yuvraj's selection is based more on his 50-over form in the Vijay Hazare Trophy than his scores in the SMAT (Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy), the local T20 tournament. Otherwise scores of 5, 2, 54 and 0 wouldn't have booked his flight to Australia.
(Incidentally, both Yuvraj and Ravindra Jadeja, the other left arm spinner, have both bowled in 22 T20 international innings, some surprising revelations. Yuvraj's stats: 23 wickets, average 16.78, economy 7.19, strike rate 14. Jadeja's stats: 14 wickets, average: 37.78, economy 7.27, strike rate 58.8).
And what about good old Nehra? He last played for India in the 2011 World Cup semi-final against Pakistan - 2 for 33, thank you very much. This season, he's played only a couple of T20s and a solitary match in the Vijay Hazare Trophy; he turned up for the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) in the Indian Premier League (IPL) last season and didn't do too badly at all. Also Nehra's presence in the field will ensure Ishant Sharma is not missed by India.
As a designated No 11, Nehra will take his batting as seriously as any No 11 does, and his returns could exceed Umesh Yadav's, but don't count on it. If Nehra's bowling mojo clicks, like Yuvraj, he can win games in the blink of an eye. If it doesn't, he can get dreary, and India will collectively find someone to blame other than politicians. Either way, Nehra, much like Yuvi, will break the internet.
As will Dhoni. T20s in Australia have been rough going for India. Often India's 50-over specialists and IPL wonder boys don't transplant too well to the bigger grounds. The buck will stop with Dhoni. These three T20 games could seem a lot longer if results are anything like they have been in the past. The IPL aside, Dhoni has never really warmed up to this format as a batsman, more so in the last few years - he is yet to score a T20 International fifty, his highest score being 48 not out. Also, his strike rate drops to 116 from 135 (in the IPL, SMAT etc).
In a time when Dhoni's favourite 50-over format is threatening to zip past him, keeping up with the frantic, kneejerk hitting in T20s could be a rather stern test.
Either way, the next few months could be our last time to see these three turn up for India. Or is there a twist in the tail-end of their careers? If so, it'll be quite something but don't count on it. Sport can be brutal, even to the greatest of them all.
First published here