In July, after India beat England in the first two T20Is to take an unassailable 2-0 series lead, Jos Buttler urged his players to “be prepared to make some mistakes”. The new England skipper felt his team had been too tame in its batting approach during the defeats.
Though England batters responded and they won the final game, India were expected to kick on and dominate teams building up to the T20 World Cup in Australia from next month. The Asia Cup failures —they did not qualify for the final—though has left questions about India’s readiness for the big challenge after they could not qualify for the knockouts in the 2021 edition.
Former India player Sridharan Sriram, who has just taken over as technical adviser to the Bangladesh team after his role as spin consultant with Australia, has told his new wards: “I’m looking for impact, not performance”. Sriram argues that a big performance need not lead to victory, but impact batting performances can make all the difference in a T20 game.
The Indian Premier League (IPL) has helped teams around the world hone an aggressive template which they can use while coming together for the country. England’s top-order domination in the 2021 World Cup and winners Australia’s consistent aggression down the line-up showed how well it worked.
India though seem to have been reluctant despite the 2021 elimination sparking debate, and a consensus, that the top-order batting should be about how quickly runs are scored rather than consolidation. The recent showing, despite KL Rahul and Virat Kohli finding form, and the India World Cup team selection still point to a conservative approach.
IPL has pushed for dynamic performances, pushing aside those not fitting the tactics. The franchise teams, coaches and scouts have also been able to find which player fits into which role.
India’s 15, for the World Cup and the bilateral series preceding it against Australia and South Africa at home, has skipper Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Virat Kohli and Suryakumar Yadav leading the list of batters. Although their class is proven, the big question is whether they can go after the bowling without being weighed down by concerns of preserving their wicket early on.
Malik, Gill could be missed
The last IPL showed that India have younger talent waiting in the wings. Deepak Hooda, who has been selected, hit a century at No. 3—the spot where he has performed the best—while Shubman Gill was consistent at the top-order for new champions Gujarat Titans. Gill, like the power-hitter and ’keeper Sanju Samson, does not find a place in the squad. Among bowlers, Umran Malik took wickets by rattling batters with pace, but has been ignored after he leaked runs in his first three T20Is for India in the UK when Australia’s bouncy pitches would have really help his bowling.
With the two bilateral series approaching, the India think tank can still tweak its plans, but the Asia Cup was more about selecting players trying to regain their peak than shuffling the line-up and changing the approach.
The Chetan Sharma-led selection committee has not explained its choices and how India could approach the World Cup this time. The point Sriram made for Bangladesh could also work for other teams.
“I think performance is overrated in T20 cricket. A team could still lose if they have performers. But if we have more impact, chances are we will win more games,” espncricinfo quoted him as saying on Wednesday.
India’s seasoned batters cannot afford to fall back on the old template of consolidation. The only time India won in 2007, it was about performances under a new skipper MS Dhoni and not the players.
India will also have the extra challenge of playing away from the sub-continent conditions, the last four editions having been held in Sri Lanka (2012), Bangladesh (2014), India (2016) and the UAE (2021).