Thursday, June 13, 2024

How do we have the T20 Indian cricket team we want?

So what was it? 

We don’t play often in global T20 leagues;

Or

Our top three batsmen are too conventional;

Or

Rahul Dravid isn’t your coach for T20 cricket;

Or

Our bowling lacks the edge;

Or

Team selection was bad; 

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So if we played global T20 leagues often, our players would know (a) new skillsets; (b) conditions would be familiar; (c) some phenomenal unknowns would just burst on to the scene.

But in IPL (a) we already showcase world’s best known and unknown talents; (b) you won’t say Arshdeep Singh was familiar with Australia; or how unfamiliar the Gulf was for us in the last World Cup? (c) and who is that unknown Indian talent who escapes our scouts when a  Sakariya or a Khaleel Ahmed aren’t missed and wear Indian colours overnight. 

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So if our top three batsmen are too conventional, how useless is a Babar Azam or a Kane Williamson? And how did your unconventionals such as Aaron Finch or David Warner fare in this World Cup? 

How unconventional do you think the top order should’ve been in tough conditions where powerplays nearly always resulted in wickets?

How do you think the top three would bat in the knowledge that after Surya Yadav most of the rest could flap but can’t take wings off the ground?

How bad do you think our team collectively scored when three of the top 10 team totals in this World Cup belong to India?

What do you call a format where your World Cup finalists have lost to Zimbabwe and Ireland who but for qualifiers would’ve been sitting home in Harare or Dublin?

Or a South Africa who were galloping before they met Netherlands round the corner?

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So Rahul Dravid, Mr Wall, shouldn’t be our T20 coach. He wasn’t too much of a T20 guy but would you say a Stephen Fleming as a player ticked the box? What accounts for Pakistan which changes its coaches more frequently than a Bollywood star does his attire in a three-minute song? Who is that brilliant coach to have transformed an Ireland or a Netherlands overnight?

What we know is that Rahul Dravid has probably dealt with more Indian players than anyone else. He played with Rohit and Virat; he honed our Sanju Samson and Rishabh Pant outside domestic cricket; and his own T20  strike-rate is better than a David Miller. (Never mind I’m pulling a fast one for Dravid played just one T20 international.)

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It’s no brainer that our bowling was paper-thin and that we made wrong selections. We knew they would be lambs on good batting wickets. That Axar Patel got one too many and Yuzuvendra Chahal none whatsoever is flying in the face of logic for the latter is no less than a Shadab Khan. Axar’s batting clinched the deal for him but the irony is we never looked to squeeze extra runs out of his blade. 

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So why did India fare badly? 

Why we continue to fare badly in global events for over a decade now?

One, either our coach-captain are too conservative or rigid. The new, bold, fearless Indian team was nothing better than a PR. 

They are relieved when a Mohammad Shami takes four wickets in one over against Australia in a warm-up game; an Ashwin gets you the two runs off the final legitimate ball; or an Axar Patel against England can’t be ignored never mind an Adelaide is not an Ahmedabad. 

They are also less flexible and thus predictable to rivals for we would never know if a Rishabh Pant after KL Rahul could’ve made England redraw plans.

We would never know if a Suryakumar Yadav in a powerplay; or an Axar Patel as an opener could’ve taken out the shine of a white ball which invariably flattened after 10 overs. 

Everyone knew but for them that our openers were not in good shape.

Our top three were more inflexible than unconventional. A Rohit doesn’t trust his boundary-hitting in a spread-out field; a KL Rahul or Virat Kohli need time to warm-up to big scores. This is where the coach-captain ought to have coaxed them to spread out in the eleven. Or do it more for the team than for themselves.

A quote from Shakibal Hasan is worth our time: He bowled his best bowlers, Taskin Ahmed and himself, much before the slog overs. His defense was that if they could get through India’s top four, they would run through the rest. 

A Jos Butler, secure in this knowledge of a rigid India, bowled through Adil Rashid from the sixth over onwards. 

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So how do we go from here onwards?

  • Our team think-tank is too rigid or too pliable to big guys. This must change. The star-culture colludes against success. 
  • We sure have too many in the 30s. It doesn’t affect them in the agility of limbs. But it does affect them in the psychology of evolution. It’s difficult to reinvent yourself after a decade and a half of international cricket. You are victims of your own success; unprepared to risk the loss of face in trying something new. 

  (For Kohli still doesn’t sweep or reverse; there are no switch hits or ramp shots from the top three; Rohit still is not looking for gaps in the field. How many times do you think Rohit has holed out to fielders in the deep on the legside? How difficult it is for a rival captain to station two at fine leg and deep midwicket even in powerplays, knowing its either burst or bust for Indian captain?)

  • We also need to switch priority from big scores to faster scores. This mindset not only results in lower scores but also your top guys chew up too many balls and leave too little for the rest. Give me a quick-fire 20-30 from a Shadab, Iftikhar or Nawaz any day than a 60 off 50 balls.
  • We sure need a completely new blueprint for our bowlers. Bring in raw pace and force them to develop variety. A Harris Rauf, in a matter of a year, is a batsman’s scourge in death overs with his variations. How deceptive would you think a 120-130 kmph bowler would be with his slower one? A batsman rarely has weight on the back leg against them which is the key to deceiving them with variations in pace.
  • Our spinners should be horses for courses. A Chahal should always be preferred to an Axar for his wrists would spin a ball even on a table top. Insist that Hardik Pandya plays a Kuldeep Yadav in all games in New Zealand this week. Rethink on Ashwin in T20 for his quality makes him experiment one too many. 

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My biggest concern is India’s cricket culture is beholden to stars and big bucks. 

I don’t like when players skip India’s matches but don’t  miss one game of the IPL. 

It still singes me that we let go on Manchester Test last year and Indian cricket board was no better than an agent between money bags and star power. 

All our stars, who don’t evolve, deserve be shaken from time to time. 

Indian board does need to look out of IPL box to find specialists: The unending season by rote—IPL, then Indian engagements and some domestic cricket thrown in between—isn’t enough. 

You need to find raw diamonds, polish them and incentivize without the lure and glitter of an IPL. For I do feel IPL turns them inwards and there is no lust for outward honours which alone survives in generations of cricket lovers as a 1983, 2007 and 2011 still does. 

Offer these raws an island if you must. There are enough desperate who otherwise risk lives protecting our borders. But then how do you do it when you are looking for your own candies and not that you are mere custodians?

A cricket culture, hijacked by money, out of collusion between players, owners and a supplicant Board, is rarely the route to honour. This Indian team is one of individuals. But individuals could only be part of a team–and not the other way around.

To be a force, individuals diminish or expand their roles for collective glory. 

Till that happens, we would be barking up the wrong tree.

I am afraid, with the present cricket culture, nothing would work. 

Nothing. 

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