Former India batter VVS Laxman has picked a rookie player who can become Hardik Pandya’s backup in the Indian team. Laxman said this while sharing his thoughts on the recently announced 15-member squad of Team India for the upcoming T20 International (T20I) series against New Zealand, starting November 17.

Laxman welcomed the changes which the selectors made was happy to see some of the performers from Indian Premier League (IPL) 2021 getting rewarded for their splendid show. Notably, a few big names, including senior batter Virat Kohli and frontline bowler Jasprit Bumrah have been rested for three-match series against the Black Caps, while players like Harshal Patel, Venkatesh Iyer and Avesh Khan have earned their maiden call-ups.

Harshal was the leading wicket-taker of IPL 2021 with 32 wickets for Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), whereas Avesh was second with 24 scalps to his name. Laxman said the T20 World Cup would be played in Australia next year, and considering the bouncy tracks there, Harshal and Avesh’s inclusions are welcome moves.

“I think they have rewarded the players who have done well in the IPL, which is the way forward, keeping in mind that the World Cup is going to happen in Australia in one year’s time. I think it is an excellent squad, not only in the batting department but also in the fast-bowling unit as well. There is Harshal Patel, who is excellent in the death overs… there is Avesh Khan who has got express pace,” Laxman told Star Sports.

Further, Laxman reckoned Venkatesh, who opened the innings for Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) in IPL 2021, scoring 370 runs from 10 matches, can be groomed as Pandya’s backup all-rounder. The cricketer-turned-commentator mentioned the race for the opening slot is already intense, therefore Iyer could be made to bat in the middle-order and bowl a few overs to give India a crucial all-round option.

“I just want someone like Venkatesh Iyer to bat out of his position. India have got five openers in that squad, and you know that Ishan Kishan, KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma are your front-runners for that spot. So Venkatesh Iyer needs to fit but not in the top order,” the 47-year-old explained.

“You want him to bat at No. 5 or No. 6, and also chip in with the bowling, probably a couple of overs or more and make him get used to that position. He could be the backup to Hardik Pandya. You can develop Venkatesh Iyer as a utility all-rounder,” Laxman added.

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