Royal Challengers Bengaluru's Virat Kohli, left, and Mohammed Siraj celebrate...

Royal Challengers Bengaluru's Virat Kohli, left, and Mohammed Siraj celebrate the dismissal of Chennai Super Kings' Daryl Mitchell during the Indian Premier League cricket match between Royal Challengers Bengaluru and Chennai Super Kings in Bengaluru, India, Saturday, May 18 , 2024. Credit: AP/Kashif Masood

NEW DELHI — In the ever-growing Twenty20 cricket landscape, India boasts the richest and most-watched league in the world. Yet all that investment and attention hasn't translated into international success for India's national team.

Rohit Sharma’s India squad travels to the T20 World Cup in the United States and Caribbean in search of a second title to end a long drought.

Undoubtedly, the Indian Premier League is flush with cash and talent, attracting the best cricketers from across the world.

Since the advent of IPL, though, India hasn't lifted the World Cup trophy.

After winning the inaugural T20 World Cup in South Africa in 2007, India has only reached one more final — losing to Sri Lanka in 2014.

The title drought crosses formats, too. India last won an International Cricket Council title in 2013 – the Champions Trophy in England. It last lifted the Cricket World Cup in the 50-over format in 2011.

Last year was an exceptional one in that sense – India lost the World Test Championship final to Australia in England and, a few months later, also lost the 50-over World Cup final to Australia, this time on home soil.

Royal Challengers Bengaluru's Virat Kohli, right, celebrates the dismissal of...

Royal Challengers Bengaluru's Virat Kohli, right, celebrates the dismissal of Delhi Capitals' Jake Fraser-McGurk during the Indian Premier League cricket match between Royal Challengers Bengaluru and Delhi Capitals in Bengaluru, India, Sunday, May 12 , 2024. Credit: AP/Kashif Masood

That caused major anguish in a cricket-mad country of 1.4 billion, considering India was on a 10-0 winning streak and a hot favorite going into the final.

Seven months later, Sharma and star batter Virat Kohli are leading the campaign in what in all probability will be their last T20 tournament in India's blue.

Sharma has been a part of every Indian squad at the T20 World Cup. Kohli made his debut in the 2012 edition, making this his sixth attempt at the title.

Kohli has scored 1,141 runs at an average of 81.50 and strike-rate 131.30 in his 27 games at the tournament. Sharma has scored 963 runs in 39 games at a strike rate of 127.88.

Mumbai Indians' Rohit Sharma plays a shot during the Indian...

Mumbai Indians' Rohit Sharma plays a shot during the Indian Premier League cricket match between Mumbai Indians and Lucknow Super Giants in Mumbai, India, Friday, May 17, 2024. Credit: AP/Uncredited

Both players missed all of India's T20 internationals between the 2022 semifinal loss in Australia and January of this year, leading to some speculation they'd miss out on the 2024 World Cup starting June 1.

That was dispelled by both BCCI secretary Jay Shah and chief selector Ajit Agarkar. Now, there will be big focus on their contributions – in terms of runs and strike-rate.

Sharma only managed 417 runs for Mumbai Indians in the club's unsuccessful 2024 IPL campaign. Kohli, meanwhile, topped the run charts for Royal Challengers Bengaluru with with 741 runs runs in 15 matches, avering 61.75. But his strike-rate earlier in the season was criticized by some TV broadcast analysts.

In a news conference to confirm the India squad, Agarkar brushed off any concerns regarding Kohli’s strike-rate.

“There’s a difference between IPL and international cricket,” Agarkar said. “You need experience as the pressure of a World Cup game is different. You (only) try to take positives from what is happening in the IPL.”

Kohli opens the batting for his IPL franchise but goes in at No. 3 for India in T20s. It has led to a significant debate over his batting position for the World Cup because it holds the key to India’s XI.

Should Kohli continue to bat at No. 3, Yashasvi Jaiswal will open the innings with Sharma. India will then have to play with only four specialist batters including Suryakumar Yadav, the world’s top-ranked T20 batter.

Allrounder Hardik Pandya and first-choice wicketkeeper-batter Rishabh Pant would slot in next, with bowling allrounders to follow.

If Kohli opens with Sharma, it allows for an extra batter in the middle order and likely makes room for Shivam Dube, who has impressed selectors with his power hitting in the IPL and strike rate of 162.29.

Dube can also bowl useful medium pace if needed, and could provide backup to Pandya.

Pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah will lead a bowling attack that will contain four spinners, including left-arm all-rounders Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel. Wrist spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzendra Chahal complete the line-up.

“I asked for four spinners,” Sharma explained. “Most of our matches will start at 10-11 a.m. (and) we expect all-rounders to do a job for us. It gives us a variety of combinations to explore depending on the opposition.”

India begins its World Cup campaign against Ireland on June 5, then faces fierce rival Pakistan in New York on June 9 in what could be the highlight of the group stage. India will play the U.S. on June 12 and Canada on June 15.

While it is a seemingly straight-forward road for India in the first round, the tension to end a prolonged title drought will grow once it reaches the West Indies for the Super Eight stage.

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