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Monday, January 17, 2022

New captain, fresh faces but spotlight to be on coach Rahul Dravid

Fresh start for India as Dravid-Sharma take charge against old foes, Williamson to skip T20 series.

Written by Sandip G | New Delhi |
Updated: November 17, 2021 8:16:32 am
Rohit Sharma, Rahul Dravid, Venkatesh Iyer, Team india, sports news, indian express, ind vs nzIndia will aim to press the reset button under new captain Rohit Sharma and an illustrious head coach in Rahul Dravid. (Twitter)

A cricket season never ends, just as it never begins. It’s an endless chain of interlinked series and tournaments without a full-stop or punctuation. So just three days after losing the World T20 final in Dubai, New Zealand starts a bilateral series against India, who they had vanquished to claim the World Test Championship just four months ago. Whether the series marks the start of a new season, or the end of an old one, or the continuation of an existing one, not even the players or officials could figure out without the help of a pause, or a calendar.

Yet, there is a kind of freshness about this season. For both the teams, the T20 World Cup is a thing of the past as they plan for the new cycle of World Test Championship, the T20 World Cup next year and the 50-over World Cup the year after. A profusion of new faces, and a familiar face recast in new avatar, assist in injecting the feeling of a new start.

Rahul Dravid, the newly-appointed Indian coach and a legend of the game, returns to fulfil the chronicles of a coaching job foretold. The crowd that is expected to flock the stadiums will be keen to see Dravid’s journey as a coach. The protagonist of the series, even if Virat Kohli would return for the second Test, would be Dravid.

Rachin & better spin

Resetting, thus, would be the abiding theme of the three-week series. In both formats, there would be a raft of experiments from both sides. New Zealand would be without Kane Williamson for T20s and Trent Boult for both versions. Their line-up would look substantially different from the one that defeated India in the WTC final. BJ Watling has retired, making way for Tom Blundell, who is cast in the same mould of indefatigability. Devon Conway’s injury would mean disarranging the opening pair, which could catalyse the Test debut of Rachin Ravindra, his first name, a portmanteau of his father’s favourite cricketers, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar. Burly medium-pace bowling all-rounder Colin de Grandhomme, too, has sat out of the tournament, but anyway, he wouldn’t have figured preeminently, given the potential spin-friendlier conditions.

Should the pitches favour spinners, they are more equipped this time than they were last time around in 2017. The Bombay-born left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel has progressed seamlessly into Test cricket, with a five-for in the second innings of his first Test, in Abu Dhabi against Pakistan, before nabbing five versus Sri Lanka in Galle. His potential accomplice, Will Somerville, had blended assuredly into this format after several years as a journeyman cricketer. Add Mitchell Santner’s part-time spin, it could be the strongest Kiwi spin unit to have toured India in this century, certainly an upgrade on the Jeetan Patel, Ish Sodhi and Michael Craig union in 2017.

Ruturaj-Venkatesh exciting opening

Unlike New Zealand, India’s temptation to change would be more pronounced in T20s after their premature departure from the World T20. The two new openers, Ruturaj Gaikwad and Venkatesh Iyer, would make their appearance at some point in the series, though maybe not as openers. A coat of paint awaits the middle order too—Shreyas Iyer would return, Suryakumar Yadav could bat an No 3, in the spot vacated by resting Virat Kohli. Ishan Kishan could get a few games, more so after Rishabh Pant’s lacklustre form in the World Cup.

IPL pace picks

A squadron of first-choice pacers missing, the selectors have rewarded consistent performers in the IPL. Avesh Khan, Deepak Chahar and Harshal Patel are in the equation while Mohammed Siraj would get a more sustained string of games in the absence of Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami. With Ravindra Jadeja keeping off the T20s and Varun Chakravarthy axed, the returning Yuzvendra Chahal and Axar Patel would look to stake their claims. It could be a sustained pattern in the coming months, where India would look to experiment before mapping the outline of the squad they would want to feature in the next T20 World Cup, which is less than a year away.

Rohit’s burden

Not just a new coach and newcomers, but the series would be Rohit Sharma’s first as India’s official T20 captain too. He comes with the burden of an impeccable track record—having shepherded Mumbai Indians to multiple IPL and led India to 15 victories in the 19 games he had stood in for Kohli.

Like Dravid’s, his ascent as India’s T20 captain was foretold, and his assumption of duties has ushered in a wave of hope. Of all the formats, it’s in T20s that a reboot is nearly a necessity. And while winning Test matches and series would be most celebrated in the Dravid era, chalking up a T20 template would likely consume most of Dravid’s and Sharma’s energies and hours in the next 10 months. The season-opening series—or is it really?—would be the first step towards the direction of a horizon glowing in the radiance of trophies.

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