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Sunday, April 18, 2021

Looking for a V-shaped recovery: India aims to bounce back in England T20I series

After loss in T20I series opener, India will have to quickly regroup and counter fire with fire on a lively Motera wicket.

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty |
Updated: March 14, 2021 7:53:55 am
Team India players huddle together before the start of a T20I against England. (BCCI)

Early into the first T20I, there was an interesting moment. Jofra Archer had hit Virat Kohli’s right glove with a rising delivery and the India captain’s response next ball was an uncustomary whack, which he miscued onto his thigh pad. Kohli looked a little flustered before he shadow-practised a straight loft. The Motera pitch for the series opener had some juice and the England fast bowlers, Archer and Mark Wood in particular, blew away India with raw pace.

Make no mistake; it was a very good T20 surface, as attested by Shreyas Iyer and Jason Roy’s stroke-play. They were comfortable playing on the up and hitting through the line. At the same time, fast bowlers willing to bend their back had some purchase. But on a pitch where Wood clocked 150kph and hurried the Indian batsmen and Archer bowled in the mid 140ks, India were spin-heavy and pace-thin. The hosts’ fast-bowling options were limited to fit-again Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Shardul Thakur and Hardik Pandya, all operating at medium pace. Three spinners played and conceded 86 runs between them for a wicket. Of course, there was no scoreboard pressure in the chase and England’s batsmen could take calculated risks without much fuss.

A Gujarat Cricket Association (GCA) official informed that the second T20I on Sunday will be played on a different pitch. “A different surface but pretty similar in nature to the one we had for the first match. Five pitches have been prepared for five T20Is,” he told The Sunday Express. Going by his observation, the pitch for the second game, too, is likely to have a bit of fizz and bounce. It needs to be seen if India include an extra seamer.

The Indian team management is unlikely to have a knee-jerk reaction after the defeat and it wouldn’t be surprising to see an unchanged playing XI for the second game. Then again, if horses for courses are to be picked, an extra seamer at the expense of a spinner wouldn’t be a bad idea. Washington Sundar batting at No. 8 and bowling two-and-a-half overs barely served any purpose in the first game. However, after posting a below-par score, India could be iffy to compromise on their batting depth which Washington offers.

If an extra fast bowler is picked, India have Navdeep Saini and Deepak Chahar to choose from. Saini can go past 145kph, but is the radar working? It had gone a bit awry in Australia, where in two ODIs, Saini conceded 153 runs in 17 overs for a wicket. Chahar, too, failed to get into the groove in the three T20Is he played Down Under, returning with an economy rate of well over nine and getting just one wicket. He usually gets the ball to swing in IPL and perhaps couldn’t adjust to the Kookaburra ball used in Australia. T Natarajan’s injury has robbed the hosts of a white-ball specialist.

As regards to batting, there’s a school of thought that India should open with Ishan Kishan, as Rohit Sharma, according to Kohli, is resting for the first two matches. Kishan’s impact batting served Mumbai Indians very well in the last year’s IPL. Also, he is fresh from his 94-ball 173 for Jharkhand against Madhya Pradesh in the Vijay Hazare Trophy.

Another theory is that India should include Suryakumar Yadav, with Kohli opening the innings in Rohit’s absence. Yadav has been going through a purple patch – a fantastic IPL for MI followed by a century and two half-centuries in the Vijay Hazare Trophy.

Shikhar Dhawan’s batting in the first match didn’t inspire confidence, as he looked completely out of sorts against pace, Mark Wood to be precise. The England fast bowler even had a short leg for the left-hander. Kohli has already mentioned that going ahead Rohit and Rahul would be the team’s first-choice opening pair but this series is an opportunity for Dhawan to present himself as a strong backup option. For a senior batsman like Dhawan, dropping him after just one failure would be harsh. The team management is not expected to be too concerned after a loss in a T20 fixture.

Maybe, like Kohli said after the first match, the focus would be more on proper execution of shots on a fresh pitch, against a heavy metal bowling attack. “We just weren’t aware of what we had to do on that pitch. Lack of execution on our shots, something we have to address. Accept your faults, come back with more intent, clarity of areas you want to hit. Wicket didn’t allow you to hit the shots we wanted to. Shreyas showed how to use the crease and ride the bounce. Below par batting performance and England made us pay,” the India captain had said at the post-match presentation.

England played like the world’s top-ranked T20I team in the series opener. Their quality and depth allow India little margin for error. In Eoin Morgan, the tourists have a captain who doesn’t let the game drift.

“His (Morgan) presence as a leader… He keeps things simple. He is very positive. We never see him down. He is very level-headed which stands out as a captain,” leg-spinner Adil Rashid said at a press briefing on Saturday.

Spin-punch will not work in this format and India have to be on top of their game to bounce back.

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