KOLKATA: Finding the perfect combination can be tricky and there is no set formula, but India head coach Rahul Dravid says he and skipper Rohit Sharma are pretty clear about the team for the T20 World Cup in Australia in less than eight months' time.
The former captain, who took over from Ravi Shastri after India's group-stage exit in last year's T20 World Cup in UAE, will have his first big challenge in Australia.
Dravid said he and Rohit understand what should be the team combination for the mega-event.
"I think we have got a fair idea between Rohit and myself and the selectors and the management," Dravid said after their 17-run win over the West Indies in the third T20I that ensured a 3-0 clean sweep here on Sunday.
"I don't think there's a set formula to it. But we're pretty clear about the balance and the combination (for the T20 World Cup)... We are just structuring a little bit of the team around it and also balancing individual workloads as well.
"We have got a pretty fair idea of the kind of skills we're looking for in Australia, with the kind of guys who are in running. Not everything is set in stone but we want to give everyone a fair chance to stake their claim for those spots," he added.
The T20I series against West Indies was India's first in a packed calendar in the build-up to the World Cup and they next take on Sri Lanka in an identical three-match rubber in four days' time.
In the absence of some Team India regulars like opener KL Rahul, and pacers Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami, India gave opportunities to youngsters such as Ishan Kishan, Ruturaj Gaikwad and Avesh Khan to stake their claim in the World Cup-bound squad.
With Virat Kohli and Rishabh Pant being given a 10-day bio-bubble rest, India also tried out Shreyas Iyer, while Kishan doubled up as the wicketkeeper in the third and final T20I.
Dravid said the whole process was about having the backups ready.
"In the times that we live in, it's never easy... I don't think there's a time frame when you can actually say that okay, now this is the team you want to freeze on.
"You don't want to cast your net too wide. We don't also want to restrict ourselves to just 15 players. We want to give players opportunities, ensure that by the time we get to the World Cup, some of our guys have played at least 10-15-20 games," Dravid explained.
"It gives Rohit a chance to play them, bowl them in positions that he wants to, but he also has to be balanced with the fact that we need to have a few back-ups of people in case of an injury," he added.
Kishan opened in all three matches of the series but the Jharkhand wicketkeeper-batter failed to impress with just 71 runs at an average of 23.66.
In the final game, Maharashtra 'run-machine' Ruturaj Gaikwad opened with Kishan as Rohit opted to bat at No. 4 but the duo failed to make it big.
Dravid said the youngsters would not be judged on one series or one bad game.
"This is a tough format. We are asking them to play high-risk cricket. We're asking them to play shots all the time. And we don't judge them on a few games. It's not the way, it's done.
"We try to give people as much as possible consistent runs. We're trying to give them opportunities to play and not judge them on a game to game basis or on one series."
Struggling Kishan gets Dravid's support
Giving full support to IPL 2022 auction's most expensive buy Kishan, Dravid said: "Ishan has been picked on his potential, his performance. Yes, you cannot specify this many games. Sometimes it's combination, sometimes it's injuries."
"Never always give a player the same number of games, there cannot be a written number in stone whether it's seven or six matches."
"Whether it's Ruturaj Gaikwad or Avesh Khan today. We are not judging them on one game. They're here because they perform and deserve to be here," the former captain stressed.
"We like to give the players confidence in the group in and around the squad and that they are not going to be judged on one game. It's always a tricky balance. But in the larger group, I'm not concerned about one-off series. In this format, it's going to happen," Dravid added.
Venkatesh Iyer making strides as all-rounder
For long, India have been fretting over their sixth bowling option especially after the back injury to their pace bowling all-rounder Hardik Pandya.
In the absence of an unfit Pandya, India have tried out the likes of Venkatesh Iyer and Shardul Thakur and it's the former who has impressed the head coach.
"I know he plays a different role (opener) for his IPL franchise but we're very clear with what is the kind of role that we see him filling in our situation... Obviously, our top three isn't really a spot, because these guys have established and have been performing very well in the top three," he said.
"So we challenged him, we gave him the role to be able to bat in that position. Every time he's improved, he's gotten better. That's really pleasing."
Venkatesh scored 92 runs from three matches with a strike rate of 184.00 and also played the role of the sixth bowler taking two wickets at an average of 13.50.
In the final T20I when Deepak Chahar limped off following a hamstring injury in the third over, Venkatesh filled in and took 2/23 in his 2.1 overs.
"The role of a sixth bowler is something that you always be called upon to bowl. But in a situation like today where we, unfortunately, lost Deepak, you have to bowl a few critical overs," Dravid said.
"That is the role of a sixth bowler. If you are having a good game and the captain doesn't need you then he doesn't need you.
"If he needs you, he probably will need you at a critical time. And I think he's done a really good job for us, really good series he has had," he added.
100 days, a learning experience for 'the Wall'
Having started off his stint as India coach with a 3-0 sweep over New Zealand last year, it's been a roller-coaster ride so far for Dravid.
Be it their back-to-back Test and ODI series defeats in South Africa, the controversy surrounding Virat Kohli's captaincy or the recent saga around Wriddhiman Saha's sacking from Test cricket, Dravid summed it all up by saying it's been a "learning experience".
"I learned a lot. I'm not stressed too much about the results and just want the team to get better and move in the right direction," Dravid, who completed 100 days as the head coach on February 17, said.
"South Africa was a reality check for us, especially in the one-day format. In Tests, while it was disappointing, things could have gone our way with a bit of luck.
"From my perspective, it's really important to keep learning as a coach to keep improving. I keep learning everyday... I don't expect not to make mistakes. I'm going to make mistakes," he conceded.
"But I learn, I'll improve and get better. I hope the team wants to do that (too)... we need to keep improving. We are far from the finished product," he concluded.