It’s unfortunate that the Indian T20I outfit does not look like at the same level as their Test and One-Day International teams, in spite of the fact that they play host to the most-competitive T20 League in the world- IPL. The biggest reason behind this state is that India has, for long, treated T20 as a poor man’s One-Day cricket. And, while that approach has worked in 50-over cricket, it had led to their undoing on a multitude of times.
The latest loss to the West Indies at Thiruvananthapuram was another validation of the aforementioned fact. With just a handful of T20Is remaining before the 2020 T20 World Cup in Australia, there are several issues that Virat Kohli and the team-management will have to sort out. And, in this article, we will have a look the four issues India is facing India in T20Is at the moment.
Here’s a look:
4. Sloppy fielding and catching
Over 4.2. Bhuvneshwar Kumar bowls a beautiful knuckle-ball one that induces a mistimed shot from Lendl Simmons, who swung hard at the ball and scooped straight down Washington Sundar’s throat at mid-off, only to see the off-spinner drop a sitter. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who isn’t enjoying a great comeback after a long layoff is in agony. Kohli is furious; Sundar is in disarray.
But, the agony wasn’t going to end there for Bhuvi and Team India. One ball later, the batsman had changed, the length of the delivery had changed, the fielder in question had changed, but sadly, for India and Bhuvneshwar, the result was pretty much the same. This time it was Pant, who after having taken Evin Lewis’ catch, proceeded to shell it at the very last moment.
Both batsmen were given a reprieve in a space of three deliveries, and they made India pay for it. West Indies put on their highest 1st wicket-stand (73) this year and Lendl Simmons registered his first T20I half-century since that World T20 semi-final in Mumbai, three and a half years ago. There’s an old cliche, “Catches win you matches”.
It couldn’t have been vindicated enough than it was in the second T20I. And, unfortunately, whether it is slip-fielding in Test cricket or the out-field catching in white-ball cricket, shelling catches have started to become a trend now in Indian cricket. And, as Kohli rightly said, you can score as many runs as you want, but if you are not taking those catches in a tight game, big players will make you pay for it big-time. The fielding in the first T20I wasn’t great either.
3. Who are the death bowling backups to Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar?
We may not have Jasprit Bumrah in Test cricket, but boy! Isn’t he being missed in T20I cricket? Bumrah is an X-factor, spearhead, heartbeat call whatever you want to, of Indian fast bowling, especially in white-ball cricket. His ability to consistently bowl those pressure overs makes him one of the best fast bowlers going around. But, what if he gets injured? Does India have enough backup? Also, is Bhuvneshwar Kumar as effective as he was before his injury?
Especially his death bowling. Is he the same Bhuvi who can consistently bowl those difficult overs as he used to? Early signs aren’t that positive but it’s important to remember that it takes time for a bowler to return at his full throttle. So, we’ll wait for that! Apart from Bumrah and Bhuvi, who are the backups?
Deepak Chahar has had a great start to his career, but on good batting pitches against quality opposition, his death bowling still needs some work. Mohammed Shami is also someone who doesn’t boast of a great record when it comes to death bowling while Khaleel Ahmed hasn’t really been able to impress in the outings that he has got.
Navdeep Saini impressed in the West Indies but is currently injured; someone who India should invest on, considering his height and the pace that he generates. But, really after Bumrah and to some extent Bhuvneshwar, who are India’s backups in death overs? The question, Kohli and the team management need to answer quickly.
2. Conservative batting approach
One of the theories that Kohli and the team-management gave when they decided to give more chances to off-spinning all-rounders like Washington Sundar, Krunal Pandya, and Ravindra Jadeja in place one of the wrist-spinners [Read: Kuldeep Yadav] was that bowling all-rounders gave the team more batting depth.
But, the question that begs to be asked is whether their batting approach compliments that theory. For far too long, India have treated T20Is as poor man’s ODI cricket, and so their approach of safety first, attack next has been a widely practiced norm in T20Is. And while that might work when they are chasing a target, it can prove to be counter-productive when it comes to setting a total, as has been evident in the games where India has batted first. The proof: India have an 8-8 record while batting first as compared to 14-3 when it comes to chasing.
Shikhar Dhawan’s dwindling T20 form and his inability to provide brisk starts coupled by Rohit Sharma’s inconsistent form at the top of the order were one of the prime reasons for it. And, the fact that KL Rahul- a guy with a 40+ average and 150+ strike-rate- was sitting out was madness. While that look’s like getting sorted with the southpaw and Rahul firmly staking his claim with consistent performances, India’s middle-order barring Virat Kohli and- to an extent- Shreyas Iyer does not inspire much confidence.
In the last game, after being in a good position at 4-140 after 16 overs, India could only manage just 30 runs in the next 24 balls, which the Indian captain admitted in the post-match conference, is something that needs a lot of work on.
1. Opting for bowling all-rounders in place of specialist wicket-taking spinners
In an era where teams’ are gradually realizing the importance of wicket-taking bowlers within their set-up in Twenty20 cricket, India are looking to go with bowlers who can contribute with the bat too. While that is not to say that bowlers who can also contribute with the bat aren’t an added bonus, let us not forget that primary skill- which in this case is bowling- shouldn’t be overlooked.
If an attacking bowler can give you crucial wickets in the middle-overs, then you wouldn’t require his batting skills in the first place. The best example of it is the 2019 World Cup semi-final where India went with a similar approach of having batting strength till No.9.
The fact of the matter is, two years ago, India dropped Ashwin and Jadeja purely because wrist-spin gave them a more attacking option. And, the duo of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal did. For two years, they were India’s X-Factors in white-ball cricket. And, then Kuldeep had a bad IPL followed by a forgettable World Cup fixture against England, where the hosts cashed in on short boundaries and shellacked not only him but also his partner Chahal.
And, Kohli and the management quickly went into the defensive mode. Bowling all-rounders have been preferred since then and Chahal, whether it is a spell against Bangladesh in the first T20I or in Hyderabad against the West Indies, has repeatedly shown why wrist-spinners are the need of the hour in T20 cricket.
India must understand that on flat Australian pitches and big grounds, wrist-spinners could prove to be lethal as compared to the off-spinning all-rounders and playing the duo of Kuldeep and Chahal together could well turn out to be a masterstroke in the quadrennial event.
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