Team India's redemption lies in a paradigm structural shift
What is beyond debate is that a large-scale overhaul is much needed; the cupboard isn’t bare, it’s just that the shopping list has been too myopic and non-inclusive.
Published: 13th November 2022 09:38 PM | Last Updated: 13th November 2022 09:38 PM | A+A A-
A campaign that promised plenty devolved into a damp squib, their avowed commitment to a fearless brand of cricket lying in tatters at the Adelaide Oval. For all the public pronouncements India made in the lead-up to the T20 World Cup, actions did not match words in an embarrassing throwback to 12 months ago, when Virat Kohli’s men failed to advance beyond the Super 12s.
A fourth successive defeat in the semifinals of World Cups, this time by ten wickets with four overs to spare against England, can be interpreted both as a victory for consistency – they at least made the last four so many times – or the sign of a larger problem, with the knockout conundrum too hard to crack, depending on which side of the fence one is on. What is beyond debate is that a large-scale overhaul is much needed; the cupboard isn’t bare, it’s just that the shopping list has been too myopic and non-inclusive.
A highest Powerplay score of 46, the only effort in excess of 40 in six innings, points to the malaise starting at the top, in every sense of the word. India’s openers are their captain and his deputy; even accounting for the slightly tricky batting conditions, Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul didn’t do enough to espouse the cause of positivity, which means India were always playing catch-up and heavily dependent on Kohli and Suryakumar Yadav to bail them out repeatedly.
As the World Cup unfolded in Australia, it was obvious that India’s fitness standards weren’t up to scratch. No format tests that trait -- and fielding -- more than 20-over cricket. Additionally confronted by vast outfields that demanded speed, stamina and strong throwing arms, India were found badly wanting. That’s understandable in a way because more than half the squad is on the wrong side of 30, three players are past 35 and the mercurial former skipper turned 34 midway through the competition. T20 might not necessarily be a young man’s game, but there is place for only so many not-so-young men.
Over the next 24 months, two more World Cups lie in wait – the 50-over one in India next winter, and the next T20 showpiece event, in the US and the Caribbean in 2024. At the risk of being monotonously repetitive, India haven’t accrued any global silverware since the 2013 Champions Trophy and if the dream of ending that drought must translate into reality, that means harsh decisions and putting the money where one’s mouth is.
India, more than anyone else, can’t complain about not having a large enough talent pool to choose from. Apart from a vibrant domestic structure, the decision-makers in Indian cricket have the Indian Premier League to fall back on. While it’s true that the odd isolated spark of brilliance doesn’t entail an immediate ticket to the national team, it’s imperative that the selectors and head coach Rahul Dravid look beyond the inner circle – nine players who played in the last T20 World Cup were part of this squad too, and the number would have been more had JaspritBumrah and Ravindra Jadeja been available – and invest in personnel who aren’t weighed down by the baggage of failures of the past.
Suryakumar, Deepak Hooda and Arshdeep Singh are obvious examples in this current set-up of players who have earned their spurs through the IPL, though the first two are experienced first-class cricketers too. Then, there is a plethora of other names knocking forcefully on the door to selection, hoping that the din of their performances is loud enough to force the people who matter to look beyond the obvious.
England used their first-round elimination in the 50-over World Cup to reshape their philosophy of white-ball cricket, giving conservatism the go-by at the altar of an uncompromising attacking brand. Towards that end, they handpicked personnel who slotted into that mould and gave them the courage and the security to follow team plans even if it meant more than the occasional failure. With a readymade blueprint in front of them and a bigger net to cast in a wider sea of talent, there’s no reason why India can’t follow suit.
That there is a significant overlap of players across formats might point to a paucity of options when that isn’t the case. There is a definitive slant towards workload management and yet the T20 squad is liberally dotted with Test regulars, a dichotomy that’s hard to comprehend. Perhaps it’s time to assiduously assemble a unit largely populated by white-ball specialists with the odd Test regular thrown in as against the existing formula where limited-over specialists are almost an afterthought. After all, it’s impossible to procure different results when one keeps making the same mistakes.
It was expected that the early exit in the UAE last year would be India’s equivalent of the 2015 moment that compelled England to revisit their approach. Twelve months on, India find themselves at the same crossroad all over again, having taken a step and a half backward for every taken forward. That’s not done; India’s passionate fans deserve better, Indian cricket deserves better. A paradigm structural shift is an immediate must, the rest will slot into place gradually.
By R Kaushik
(Cricket writer and co-author of GR Vishwanath and VVS Laxman autobiographies)