As the likes of Ishan Kishan, Sanju Samson, Rishabh Pant and Deepak Hooda swung their bats hard, the Indian team’s practice session at the Basin Reserve in Wellington bore a different look from the recently-concluded T20 World Cup.
Not just in personnel, but also in approach, as seen in a video uploaded by the BCCI.
After a year of trying to change their circumspect batting approach, especially while batting first, under skipper Rohit Sharma and coach Rahul Dravid, India reverted to caution on the big occasion, causing their exit in the semi-final against England.
So poor was India’s Powerplay scoring rate – around run a ball – in the T20 World Cup that they were ahead of only UAE out of the 16 participating teams. India’s top three of Rohit, KL Rahul and Virat Kohli managed a strike-rate of just 125 in the tournament.
Whether that top order makes way permanently or not, and whether partially or fully, in the run-up to the 2024 T20 World Cup remains to be seen. But in these three T20Is in New Zealand beginning Friday, India will take the first step towards having a fresh starting trio under a different captain, Hardik Pandya, and stand-in coach VVS Laxman.
Ahead of the series opener in Wellington, Laxman said that more “specialist” players was the way to go in T20s. “I think that will be the case going forward, especially in white-ball cricket, you require specialist players. Going forward, in T20s you will see a lot more T20 specialists, but managing their workload and choosing players from the pool we have is a blessing Indian cricket has,” Laxman said.
However, far from being a ‘specialist’, one of India’s likely openers in this series, Shubman Gill, is yet to play a single T20I, and strikes at below 130 in the format, although he had a productive Indian Premier League season with Gujarat Titans and has grabbed his chances in ODIs.
Another contender for the top order, Kishan, strikes at just above 131, and has shown a tendency to suddenly lose momentum in the middle. The other contenders are not exactly regular openers. This isn’t to say they are likely to be as circumspect as the incumbents, just that their records so far aren’t standout explosive ones. So the argument that all India need is to replace the ageing top order and all will be well, may be too simplistic, although rebuilding is required doubtless with an eye on the future.
For now, the team management wants the youngsters to bat freely on this tour. “In T20 cricket, it’s important to be aggressive,” Laxman said. “And we have the guys who have this ability to express themselves. So that’s the message from the captain and myself: be aggressive, but also focus on conditions and situations.”
Meanwhile, former India coach Ravi Shastri said that this tour provides Indian cricket with a window to break free from the past. “There is an opportunity with this team to identify match-winners and duties, and going pretty much on the template of England. They sat down and said, ‘We are going to change our resources. We are going to identify the best players – whether it’s T20 or 50-over cricket.’ And this meant that if there were certain senior players who would sit out, then (so) be it. And they got in youngsters who were fearless, who could adapt to that pattern of the game without having to change too much.
“So it’s a template that can be followed easily. India has got a wealth of resources and I think it can start now with this tour. Because when you look at this team, it’s a fresh, young side… you can identify, groom, and take this team ahead in two years’ time.”
Eyes on Kuldeep Yadav, Umran Malik
Kuldeep Yadav has played just two T20Is this year, and none since August. He did have his best IPL season this year, taking 21 wickets for Delhi Capitals at an average of under 20 and an economy-rate of 8.44.
He tossed the ball up with the cushion of the larger square boundaries at the Cricket Club of India and the DY Patil Stadium, and also varied his pace well.
With Washington Sundar also in the squad as the spin all-rounder, it will be a stretch to play both leg-spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep. But India will definitely play at least one of the two, which itself will be a bold statement of sorts considering they went through an entire World Cup campaign with their leg-spinner Chahal on the bench throughout. India may not have a leg-spin all-rounder of the class of Shadab Khan or Wanindu Hasaranga but a wrist-spinner nevertheless remains a game-changing option in the format, as Adil Rashid showed with his spells in the semi-final against India and the final against Pakistan.
The pace attack for the New Zealand tour is the most unchanged component from the T20 World Cup squad, with the continued presence of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Arshdeep Singh, Harshal Patel and Mohammed Siraj. However, Umran Malik is also back after making his debut on the Ireland and England tour back in June. The Jammu & Kashmir tearaway had a decent Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, with eight wickets in seven games at an economy-rate of 8.08.
The case for pace has been strongly made again in the T20 World Cup, with Pakistan’s outstanding seam quartet and England’s Mark Wood playing major roles in their teams’ march to the final. Malik is nowhere near displaying that kind of control yet, but his sheer speed can add a potent weapon to an attack which looked toothless whenever swing was absent in the T20 World Cup.