Runners-up, semi-finalists, semi-finalists, runners-up, and semi-finalists: This is where India has finished in each of their last 5 global tournaments.
India invariably walks into each tournament as one of the favorites, cruising through the group stage only to stumble at one of their last two hurdles.
If India can address the following issues before next year’s T20 World Cup, they can overturn a familiar and incredibly frustrating pattern of results.
The Dhoni Question
For Indian fans, the winning shot of the 2011 World Cup is the most iconic moment of the last decade. 8 years on, Dhoni loyalists still cite this iconic knock as a reason why he is truly irreplaceable.
Or is he?
Dhoni’s 2-month sabbatical gives Rishabh Pant’s a chance to claim the wicketkeeper-batsman slot. With 1172 runs in his last two IPL seasons at a Strike Rate of 169, he should be one of the first names on the team sheet.
Unfortunately, the 21-year-old’s dismissal in the first T20I versus the West Indies was yet another instance of him being caught on the leg-side boundary. In four of his last five competitive innings Pant has been:
- Caught at deep square leg attempting to pull Liam Plunkett for six
- Caught between deep square leg and deep midwicket attempting to slog sweep Shakib al Hasan for six
- Caught at deep midwicket attempting to slog sweep Mitchell Santner for six
- Caught at deep square leg attempting to slog sweep Sunil Narine for six
As someone who can muscle the ball down the ground and over cover, Pant should be choosing his battles. The fact that he is also battling against the nostalgia of 91* (79) and the iconic straight six, makes his task of displacing Dhoni all the more difficult.
Make no mistake: In the shortest format, Pant would walk into any starting line-up in World Cricket.
Yet, if he doesn’t produce a big score in the two remaining T20Is against the West Indies, the Indian selectors may well side with emotion and reputation, picking a potential liability in Dhoni.
Dhoni’s conservative approach is not compatible with the breakneck speed of T20 cricket. This same approach has arguably cost India many games over the last few years, including a few at this year’s world cup.
Who makes the Top 4?
The default setting would be to open with ODI heavyweights Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan,
Given his run at this year’s world cup and his 4 centuries in T20Is—the most by any Indian— you would expect Rohit to be a shoo-in for the first openers slot.
That leaves one spot open.
In Dhawan’s case, he is an improved T20 player. In each of his last two IPL seasons, he’s had a strike rate over 135.
There is, of course, a strong case for KL Rahul, who impresses one and all whenever he takes the field in the shortest format.
Having said that, Rahul was slow off the blocks during the majority of IPL 2019. Although he often managed to accelerate as the innings went on, his slow starts affected Kings XI Punjab’s Powerplay totals and piled pressure onto the rest of their batting order.
The simple (and most logical) solution is to side with the two players who clear the boundary more regularly, thereby maximizing returns during the Powerplay. This is where Rahul and Rohit have a clear advantage.
An outside contender for the opening slot is King Kohli himself. Despite striking northwards of 140 when he opens in T20 cricket, India might be better off with the master of chases anchoring the innings rather than accelerating from the start.
There is also a school of thought that supports picking all four, in which case Kohli is most likely to bat at two down. Rahul’s scintillating century on the tour of England came at number 3, so it is a strategy that has worked in the past.
However, the major issue with this composition is the fact that Kohli only averages a shade above 30 when he bats at 4 in T20 cricket. He’s arguably more suited to building an innings, where he keeps the scoreboard ticking than he is to launching from ball one.
Wrist Spin or Finger Spin?
Wrist spin was all the rage before the world cup. India was touted as the best bowling unit, one without any visible weakness.
What a difference two months can make.
Kuldeep and Chahal have gone from the antidote to India’s Champions Trophy woes, to finding themselves jostling for one spot in the ODI team and being ditched entirely from the T20 squad.
Leg-spin is no longer a point of difference. Nearly every team has one. Batsmen face them in the nets, they analyze their footage, and they can pick them.
On the contrary, Ravindra Jadeja is in the form of his life with both bat and ball across all three formats. It would take a brave man to bet against him improving on his batting average of 10.50 in T20Is.
Throw in Krunal Pandya—who has scored his runs at a strike rate of 146 and bowled at an economy of 7.16 throughout his IPL career—and India have a 6th bowling option and some muscle down the order.
Against opposing teams that are packed with left-handers, they also have the teenaged off-spinner Washington Sundar, who is improving as a lower order hitter.
Having said that, it is always tempting to have a wicket-taker through the middle overs, even with the risk of leaking runs. Enter Rahul Chahar, who has bowled with skill and discipline to survive on the unforgivingly short boundaries at the Wankhede.
Lurking in the shadows is Shreyas Gopal, who dismissed both Kohli and de Villiers twice in IPL 2019, along with claiming the wickets of Jonny Bairstow, Kane Williamson, Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Quinton de Kock, and Chirs Lynn.
Despite the fall of Kulcha, India are blessed with a plethora of options in the spin department. The question for them—and Rishab Pant for that matter—is whether they can step up and deliver a performance as impactful as 91* (79).
(Featured Photo Credit: RANDY BROOKS/AFP/Getty Images)