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Conservative India needs T20 reboot: Rohit, Rahul, Kohli misfits as Top 3

The team that lost the World T20 semi-final had a sameness in the batting order. For a year, coach Rahul Dravid and Rohit conducted experiments but they weren't bold enough.

(L-R) KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli during India's match against Engalnd on Thursday. (AP)

When England captain Jos Buttler walloped the ball over long-on, over Virat Kohli’s head, for the match-winning hit in the T20 World Cup semi-final, commentator Ravi Shastri would scream, “It’s over Kohli”. He meant the ball, but it also could be said about the campaign and the old warhorse’s dream of winning an ICC T20 World Cup. It’s over Kohli, it’s over, Rohit Sharma, and it’s over, Rahul Dravid.

The time has come to reboot the T20 team, with youngsters and a bolder approach in the management. Not because these fresh faces would be capable immediately, but because it’s clear that this aging team can’t. A country can ache over a mythical past culturally if it so chooses; it can’t afford to do it in sports. As that adage goes, if you don’t let go, be dragged.

India’s fate in the World Cup campaign was always out there in plain sight, but a combination of factors involving our two neighbours masked it to trigger a nationalistic outpouring of hope. Kohli found a spark of genius for two balls from Haris Rauf in the game against Pakistan, and Bangladesh choked in a chase, making some see it as a result of India’s achievement rather than spontaneous combustion by Shakib Al Hasan’s men.

 

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When they were beaten by South Africa, it was put down to the pitch in Perth and how they will never have to play there again in the tournament. One bad game, move on, was the cry. Mistake.

All the old fears would come to haunt India in the semi-final. In the end, skipper Sharma would offer his pithy assessment: “It’s all about executing. If you don’t, you are going to find yourself in trouble.”

He is right of course, but the reason for the lack of execution shouldn’t be masked.

They were dragged to modernity on the big day by the face of India’s T20 future: Hardik Pandya; and through the tournament by Suryakumar Yadav, the face of World T20 batting in some ways.

They were kept afloat by a spirited young Arshdeep Singh, who surprised most but seemingly not himself, with his performances. Unfortunately, a superb second or third seamer had become the chief attacking weapon too quickly, and unsurprisingly, he couldn’t reprise it in the semi-final.

 

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What were the old fears? A sameness in the top order. No IPL franchise would bunch Rohit, KL Rahul, and Kohli at the top, and for a reason. For a year, coach Dravid and Sharma conducted experiments in the team, in their words, but it was very conservative. They didn’t seriously try Rishabh Pant at the top, and when they had Deepak Hooda suddenly hitting a furious hundred in the top 3, they demoted him immediately. Not that Hooda would have done better on Australian conditions, where cricket was played during an untimely season, but the move said something: We shall experiment but not with the immoveable Top 3. We shall try to fill other spots.

 

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They didn’t want Mohammed Shami. Only an untimely injury to Jasprit Bumrah would bring him back, not any vision by the management. They didn’t replace Axar Patel with a more attacking gamble on leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal this World Cup despite failures because they wanted a cushion with the bat. Experiment, but conservatively. All other good teams had attacking leg-spinners while all that Chahal did was Chahal TV.

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Not many “risks’ were taken by this team management. It was couched as ‘consistency’ in team selection but that’s just flimsy dressing. If consistency was the theme, then Shami wouldn’t have been out in the cold for a year, Pant wouldn’t be left without clarity over his role, or performances of contenders to Rahul’s spot wouldn’t have been ignored.

For a long while, they kept Harshal Patel in the team despite being clear that in Australia, his one-trick card wasn’t going to work. Pakistan pumped in with pace, so did England, but India, it seems, were preparing for a World Cup in the subcontinent.

The moves show a lack of vision and clarity – the two things expected of Dravid and Sharma. On air, after the semi-final, former captain Sunil Gavaskar would see signs of the winds of change.

 

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“A new Indian team under Hardik Pandya will be traveling to New Zealand soon. Clearly, the selection committee has sent the signal. Hardik Panday won the IPL in his first year as captain and the team under him will be different. There could be retirements, there are a lot of players in their mid-30s who might consider their future in international T20s.”

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His former teammate Shastri would offer his postmortem too: “India may have to look at a relatively new team. A young unit, a fresh unit, built for the future.”

Because, as that ad line goes, the future is already here and winking at India, who in fact through their creation of IPL, had given birth to it. But they had donned an ironical blind-fold.

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The future was calling, but the boys weren’t listening; they were playing retro-remixes.

First published on: 10-11-2022 at 19:01 IST
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