Small-town stars who look all set to be T20 World Cup mainstays

New Delhi, Dec 29 – It would be safe to say that India’s last two Men’s T20 World Cup campaigns were a mixed bag.

In 2021, they promised a lot, but defeats to Pakistan and New Zealand brought their campaign to an early exit.

Post that, they rejigged their batting approach and found a competent bowler in Arshdeep Singh, but went back to their old approach when the 2022 edition happened in Australia.

They began with an unforgettable one-wicket thrilling win over Pakistan, before scraping their way to the semi-finals, where England handed them a ten-wicket thrashing.

In a hectic cricketing cycle, the end of a team’s path in the competition is a chance for the teams to inject youngsters coming in with fresh legs and an attitude to put their best foot forward in every game.

Though India have senior players in Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli among others, the selection committee can’t overlook the performances of the youngsters hailing from small towns who can potentially become India’s mainstays in the Men’s T20 World Cup.

The year 2023 saw the big stars stay away from the T20Is to prepare for the ODI World Cup and in their absence the small town young stars come into their own.

Rinku Singh, coming from a modest background in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, had been on the domestic and IPL circuit for some time. But 2023 saw Rinku emerge as a fearless striker of the ball, who can finish games very well. Like the straight five sixes in the last over for Kolkata Knight Riders against Gujarat Titans and unbeaten knocks in the series against Australia.

Also, his unbeaten 68, the first time he scored a T20I fifty, against South Africa at Gqeberha, showed that Rinku is capable of being a proper and efficient batter in the format, rather than being just a finisher.

Another player who can be a crucial cog in India’s T20I wheel is leg-spinner Ravi Bishnoi, who hails from Jodhpur, Rajasthan, but switched his domestic team to Gujarat.

Bishnoi took nine wickets in the 4-1 series win over Australia, and became Player of the Series. But with Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja returning, it meant Bishnoi had to warm the bench in the South Africa series. His middle overs utility and ability to bowl a quick googly will keep him in good stead.

From the women’s team, who are also building up to the 2024 T20 World Cup, Kanika Ahuja and Minnu Mani are looking set to be the small-town stars after entering the national reckoning in 2023.

Minnu, a utility off-spin all-rounder, is the first player from the Kerala state to be a part of the Indian team. She resides in Mananthavady in Wayanad district and used to change four buses to reach the KCA Stadium in Krishnagiri in the off-season to train there.

Belonging to the Kurichiya tribe, Minnu had been a consistent domestic performer, before landing a WPL deal with Delhi Capitals and is now in the India T20I team. She captained the ‘A’ team in the series against England ‘A’ in Mumbai.

On the other hand, Kanika, hailing from Patiala in Punjab, is known for her big-hitting skills, something which was seen when she hit 46 off 30 balls in Royal Challengers Bangalore’s first win of WPL 2023.

She would then play a big role in India ‘A’ winning emerging women’s Asia Cup and get to be a member of the T20I team, collecting three caps as India won Asian Games gold medal.

With the infusion of young talent from small towns, the glimpse of India’s future in both men’s and women’s T20I teams is bright as they set themselves up to prepare for the T20 World Cup silverware.

nr/rad

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