CHENNAI: Beginning Saturday, India have 23 T20 Internationals, plus the IPL and the Asia Cup, where they are likely to play a minimum of three games. To build a side that can have a real go at the World T20 in October-November 2020, they will not get a platform bigger than this. The selectors, by including the likes of Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Krunal Pandya, Rahul Chahar, Washington Sundar, Khaleel Ahmed, Deepak Chahar and Navdeep Saini have sent a message with regards to where their priorities lie. But there is always a but when it comes to the Indian T20 side.
Unlike teams from the West Indies, England and Australia, India have so far resisted playing high-risk cricket. Even 12 seasons into the IPL, the system hasn’t produced an out and out T20 player, who stands out for boundary-hitting capabilities.
Not that India have had the need. Post their against-the-odds WT20 triumph in 2007, India had horrid returns in three editions, failing to cross the group stages. In 2014, they made it to the final and in 2016, their run ended in the semifinals. It is underachievement for a side that boasts of the most competitive T20 league which is expected to make players better. It has helped unearth some special talent, but they have been more useful in other formats.
Amol Muzumdar, a veteran in the domestic circuit and batting coach with Rajasthan Royals, sheds some light on this. “After winning the title in 2007, we haven’t been able to build the sort of momentum one expected. India, as a team, plays a different sort of game compared to others. Even in T20s they have a conventional approach to batting, but they have been successful with that. With time, everything evolves and going forward with the next gen that completely grew up in the T20 era there will be a change,” he said.
Not that India are short when it comes to exciting players, who make T20 batting breathtaking. In Rishabh Pant there is one. But it is quantity that is lacking. While one possible reason is India don’t let players to feature in other T20 leagues, restricting them to only two tournaments — IPL and Syed Mushtaq Ali T20s — for greater focus on red-ball cricket, very few prefer taking only the aerial route.
“I don’t want to compare with players from other teams, but you need a different mindset for T20s. You break it down to number of balls you face and then practice. For example, a middle-order batsman should be thinking in the nets I have only five balls left, what can I do? You look for different things that will work. These are not yet part of our players, but they are learning by watching T20 imports. Which is why lot of Indian players still play the risk-free game, because you are taught to put a price on your wicket from age-group levels,” Muzumdar said.
In Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and KL Rahul, India have a solid top-order, which plays percentage cricket at a time when T20 top-orders are expected to be more explosive. That they score 8.57 runs per over since the beginning of 2016 — second best in the world — is a testament to their efficiency. Whether India change plan or continue to follow the path already taken could well determine their fate in the WT20 in Australia.