After Virat Kohli announced his decision to step down from T20I captaincy, in a parallel world, there was bound to be riots. Bound to be people crying to see their skipper back to leading the team but in this world that we are living in, it wasn’t the case.
India had an able leader in Rohit Sharma, the man who won five IPL titles, who had the tactical nous to make the best of the team that he has. Be it Mumbai Indians or India (in a limited capacity), Rohit has delivered the goods. His first game as a full-time captain was against New Zealand, the 2021 T20 World Cup finalists minus some of their key players.
And unlike Kohli, who had a terrible last year with the coin, losing 12 out of the 20 tosses since 2020, Rohit began with a bang. A toss win, that not just floated on Twitter but might even make headlines. India won the toss. That’s how Rohit’s era as a leader began, with a win.
Even with a new India, minus Virat Kohli, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Shardul Thakur, Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja, India found a template. A template that they could take to the 2022 edition of the T20 World Cup, a template that really can find them success.
But there remained the question with the ball: India’s issues in the powerplay overs continued. Barring the early strike of Daryl Mitchell, via Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s early swing, India continued to paint a tale that has haunted them, showed a template that has hurt them immensely in the past.
India’s struggle with the new ball
Even though India restricted New Zealand to 164 runs and six wickets in the 20 overs, their bowling early on was a sign of familiar trouble. The bigger talking point remained, why did India pick three bowlers, whose speciality was with the new ball? In Mohammed Siraj, Deepak Chahar and Bhuvneshwar, India had three bowlers who all have had success in the IPL with the new ball.
But at the same time, it meant that India had to leave Harshal Patel on the bench, which begs the question: does India really need three new-ball bowlers in the setup? When Harshal Patel can offer so much more solidarity in the middle-overs and can also be exceptionally deceptive at the death overs.
If you extend the count to Ravichandran Ashwin and Axar Patel, India had five bowlers, who all can operate with the new ball and yet found themselves with just one wicket in the first 13 overs of the game. While it did dent Kohli’s T20I legacy, Rohit’s time as a leader might also boil down to that as India’s struggle with the new ball continues.
Ravichandran Ashwin’s form, a headache for selectors
In Washington Sundar’s absence, it was almost certain that veteran off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin would be heading to the Middle East, for the T20 World Cup. Yes, that was indeed certain. But what transpired there came as a blessing at a cost for the Indian team. Ashwin was perhaps India’s best bowler at the global event, with six wickets in the tournament, averaging a mere 10.50.
He did it with aplomb, he turned back the clock and showed why Kohli went back to the off-spinner in Washington Sundar’s absence. With the young all-rounder still not fully recovered, Ashwin’s time in the Indian blue continued.
His performance against New Zealand, on Wednesday, showed what India have missed, quality. Even if Yuzvendra Chahal was a mute spectator from the dugout, Ashwin showed what experience could do.
His over, the 14th of the innings, defined Ashwin’s growth as a bowler. He doesn’t bow down under the pressure, he doesn’t even give in to the batter. What he does instead is turn it around with some quality bowling. Mark Chapman, who tonked the Indian bowlers failed massively to counter the off-spinner’s impressive Test match stuff. He then made Glenn Phillips, who is one of the best batters against spin to dance to his tunes. That’s Ashwin and then there’s that headache for the Indian selectors.
Suryakumar Yadav shines yet again
At No.3, it was yet another rare opportunity for the Mumbai right-hander to show his range of shots in Virat Kohli’s absence. And he attacked off his fourth ball, sweeping hard and fine for a boundary.
India’s lacklustre display at the T20 World Cup could be put down to their display in the middle-overs, it has been a phase that has held them back in the past. But Suryakumar showed what exactly India needs: aggression and proactiveness.
In a phase that India have struggled (7-14), Suryakumar excels, which was on display yet again in Jaipur. He scored 48 runs off 32 balls in the middle overs, at a strike-rate of 150, with three fours and three sixes. Not just that, he scored a boundary every 4.4 balls, and rightly pointed out by Indian skipper Rohit, the right-hander is a key for India’s chances in 2022 T20 World Cup.
Across all T20s since 2020, the Suryakumar averages 34.9 in the middle phase of the innings, at a strike-rate of 144.51, scoring a boundary every 5.14 balls, which shows how integral he is.
"Surya batted brilliantly and that's how he plays, he played some percentage shots as well and plays spin really well and uses the pace well for the fast bowlers," said India's skipper Rohit at the post-match presentation.
The Rishabh Pant question
Hold on, don’t yet start cussing. He is Rishabh Pant, he will get better. Did you see how Pant changed the game in Test cricket? Have some shame. Okay hang on, wasn’t Pant earmarked to be the biggest thing in white-ball cricket, in India? Was there a hype, well there was a lot, a lot of them? Didn’t he just win yet another game for India with a boundary?
Yes, he did it all, he won the game with a boundary but his batting in the shortest format is yet a puzzle. A puzzle that is both deceptive and confusing. Didn’t he average 39 in the T20 World Cup? Stop. He did all of that but at a cost for India, his strike-rate has taken a severe dip and that goes unnoticed.
A guy who was once tonking the ball at a strike-rate of 200, 175, 150 has now been reduced to mere 120s and that too with a help of a few boundaries here and there. Since 2020, in 13 appearances, in only two innings has Pant had a strike-rate of over 140. Once against Afghanistan and the other against England. Barring that, his strike-rate has always been around the 100-120 mark, which leaves the others with plenty of work to do.
Across all T20s since 2020, in only 10 innings out of 39, has Pant had a strike-rate above the 140 mark, which shows that the left-hander has lost his hitting prowess, which might put his place under the scanner.