India under Dravid: unlucky, but also undone by hasty decision-making

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16 Nov 2022 | 12:44 PM
authorAnirudh Suresh

India under Dravid: unlucky, but also undone by hasty decision-making

If we were to ask the question if India, through their decision making, gave themselves the best chance of winning the T20 World Cup, the answer would be a resounding no

On November 3, 2021, in the aftermath of the T20 World Cup debacle in UAE, the BCCI appointed Rahul Dravid as the head coach of the Indian side across all formats. The gig was Dravid’s first at the international level, but expectations were high owing to the strong nature of the side the 49-year-old inherited. 

Put simply, India, under Dravid, were expected to realize their potential. In other words, bag silverware, something they failed to do under Ravi Shastri despite being dominant. 

Dravid and his staff had one year — roughly 35 games — to get the team ready for the T20 World Cup in Australia but while the journey to the 2022 T20WC started off promisingly, it became more and more turbulent with time. Ultimately, the end result proved to be a cataclysmic crash.

Today, we revisit the 12-month journey by traversing through the timeline of events, and also put forward a few burning questions for which there seem to be no answers.

November 3, 2021: Dravid is appointed head coach of the Indian side

Areas in the T20I side that needed addressing when Dravid took over

Appointing a skipper  

India were without a full-time captain when Dravid took over, with Virat Kohli confirming that the UAE World Cup would mark the end of his tenure as skipper of the shortest format.

Fixing the spin attack

India’s spin attack was in no man’s land. Rahul Chahar, Varun Chakravarthy and Ravichandran Ashwin had traveled to UAE as the side’s specialist spinners, but the trio were patched together as a temporary arrangement. The future was uncertain.

Assembling a gun pace battery outside of Bumrah, with one eye on Australian conditions

Both Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami underwhelmed in the UAE, and hence there were serious doubts over the feasibility of the pair continuing to feature in the shortest format. When Dravid took over, it felt like he needed to identify a bunch of (new) quicks who would not only compliment Bumrah, but also be potent in Australian conditions.

Zeroing-in on the wicket-keeper

In the aftermath of the 2021 T20WC, Rishabh Pant’s T20I spot was anything but secure: after 32 innings, his average stood at 22.69, with him striking at 123.43. Dravid & Co. had one year to figure out whether Pant was the right fit.

Grooming back-ups, preparing a potent Plan B

India were lucky to get through the 2021 T20WC without injuries, but a combination of scheduling and individual fitness concerns called for readying like-for-like back-ups who would not only fit in seamlessly if needed, but also serve as a potential Plan B should Plan A fail.

How the management (immediately) went about solving the issues at hand

Appointing a skipper: Rohit Sharma was named the captain of the T20I side. Rohit was the best short-term fix at the management’s disposal and it was a decision that was welcomed and celebrated.

Fixing the spin attack: While Rahul Chahar and Varun Chakravarthy were discarded, Ashwin was retained. Presumably due to his experience. The veteran featured in the very first series post the T20WC, making it clear that he was in the new management’s plans. What got everyone talking, however, was the immediate re-integration of Yuzvendra Chahal, who was snubbed for the T20WC in UAE. Chahal immediately became a mainstay in the side under Dravid.

Pace battery: Despite his ordinary showing in UAE, Bhuvneshwar Kumar kept his spot in the side. Deepak Chahar and Mohammed Siraj were the other two who started off the Dravid era, while they were soon joined by Harshal Patel. Harshal would soon go on to leapfrog his RCB teammate Siraj in the pecking order.

Wicket-keeper conundrum: The Dravid-led management gave their full backing to Rishabh Pant. Ishan Kishan featured too, but he was more of a batter than a keeper; at no point was he a competition for Pant.

Backups and Plan B: Venkatesh Iyer and Axar Patel were shortlisted as ready-made replacements for Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja respectively. Shreyas Iyer was in the XI too, but when Dravid took over, nobody quite knew whether Shreyas was being groomed as Kohli’s back-up, or if the management saw him as a starter in the XI. 

How the aforementioned plots evolved (pre-IPL)

On the spin-bowling front, Chahal became the #1. Ashwin did not feature a lot after sustaining an injury, and his spot was taken by young Ravi Bishnoi. Axar, meanwhile, became a starter too — and in turn an integral member of the spin attack — due to Jadeja’s fitness concerns.

On the pace front, Siraj faded away from the T20I set-up. However, Bhuvneshwar, Harshal and Chahar continued to be mainstays. Across the Sri Lanka and West Indies matches, the management also blood-in Avesh Khan. Avesh’s introduction excited many, for he was seen as a great package for Australian conditions.

Pant continued to be the uncontested, unchallenged #1 with the gloves. He showed positive signs too, averaging 46.50 and striking at 143 in his first 5 matches under Dravid.

By the time IPL 2022 came about, the Iyers — Shreyas and Venkatesh — had put up mighty impressive numbers. While Shreyas was averaging 86.33 under Dravid, striking at over 160, Venkatesh grew into the finisher’s role; the southpaw even forged an interesting partnership with Suryakumar Yadav down the order. In addition, he also took 5 wickets at an economy of just over 8.00. Ishan Kishan did not bat with the same fluency as the aforementioned duo, but he continued to pile on the runs, even if he struggled.

The post-IPL fallout

 

Venkatesh Iyer completely drops out of the picture, Pandya returns

Following a horror IPL season (avg 16.55) in which he was dropped mid-tournament by his franchise KKR, Venkatesh Iyer, despite impressing in Indian colours, dropped out of the picture completely. It wasn’t a blow for India, though, as he was replaced by the returning Hardik Pandya, who was re-entering the national side on the back of a title-winning IPL season.

Dinesh Karthik makes his way into the side

Just when everyone thought he was done for good, DK forced his way into the T20I side again via a remarkable IPL campaign. His numbers — avg 55.00 and SR 183.33 — were too good to ignore; he was picked for the South Africa series, where he was used as a specialist finisher.

Arshdeep, Umran come into the picture following Deepak Chahar’s injury

A long-term injury to Deepak Chahar forced the management to bring both Arshdeep Singh and Umran Malik into the scheme of things. The pair, both of whom brought a different kind of x-factor and were deemed suitable for Australian conditions, broke into the set-up on the back of outstanding IPL seasons. Beside Umran and Arshdeep, the core of the pace attack outside Bumrah remained the same (Bhuvneshwar, Harshal and Avesh). Siraj all but kissed goodbye to his T20WC chances thanks to a horrific IPL 2022 season. 

How the plot evolved leading into the Asia Cup

Kishan, Umran drop out of the scheme of things

Organically, Ishan Kishan and Umran Malik found themselves alienated. While Umran was merely leapfrogged by Arshdeep Singh in the pecking order, Kishan’s case was interesting. Injury to Rahul and Kohli being rested meant that there was one vacant slot at the top of the order in the series against West Indies, but the management opted to not use Kishan. Instead, a couple of funky experiments saw them open with Pant and Suryakumar Yadav.

Hooda barges into the picture; leaves fans questioning Kohli’s spot in the XI

Deepak Hooda made it into the setup on the back of a very productive IPL 2022, and within a handful of games he made a huge impact. So much so that fans were calling for him to be in the starting XI ahead of a visibly struggling Kohli, who followed up a poor IPL 2022 with scores of 1 and 11 against England. It was in the two-match series against Ireland that Hooda made his mark, smashing an unbeaten 47* opening in the first T20I before following it up with a ton batting at No.3 in the second game. He then had a fruitful series against the Windies with both bat and ball to force himself into starting XI talks.

Ashwin, Bishnoi strengthen their case in Chahal’s absence

The management opted to rest Chahal for the five-match T20I series against West Indies, and both Ashwin and Bishnoi made the most out of the talisman’s absence. While Ashwin picked up 3 wickets in 3 games at an ER of 6.66, Bishnoi scalped 8 wickets in 3 games at an ER of 6.46. At the very least, the pair were bowling themselves into the 15-man squad.

Pant skates on thin ice

As the Asia Cup beckoned, Rishabh Pant, once a sure-shot starter, was no longer a guaranteed pick. His record leading into the competition was dodgy — 12 innings, avg 22.22, SR 128.20 — and his position in the XI was under serious threat, with Karthik faring far better.

Harshal Patel, Bumrah out with injury

Both Harshal Patel and Jasprit Bumrah did not feature in the West Indies T20Is, and their injuries were bad enough to rule them out of the Asia Cup.

Heading into the Asia Cup, then, the guaranteed starters in the XI (fitness considered) were: Rohit, Rahul, Kohli, Suryakumar, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Yuzvendra Chahal

Asia Cup and its fallout

The Asia Cup was supposed to solve a lot of problems for India, but they exited the competition with more questions than answers. 

They began the tournament with Dinesh Karthik (dropping Pant), but then dropped DK mid-tournament (though the latter faced all of one ball). Comically enough, Pant also didn’t last the whole tournament, so India ended the competition with Karthik as their keeper. 

Chahal was a lock heading into the Asia Cup, but that no longer was the case at the end of the tournament as the leggie underperformed big time in the crunch matches. Both Ashwin and Bishnoi enjoyed far better outings. 

India ended up losing Ravindra Jadeja due to injury. But mid-tournament, they employed Hooda — and not Axar — as Jadeja’s replacement. Hooda was asked to bat in the lower-order and, bafflingly, his bowling was only used in the dead rubber against Afghanistan, that too only a solitary over. 

While Arshdeep strengthened his claim to be in the starting XI, Avesh Khan was dropped mid-tournament following registering figures of 6-0-72-2 across the first two matches. 

The only positive for India was the return to form of Kohli, who rediscovered his touch and, in the process, broke the 71st century drought.

But in the aftermath of the Asia Cup, the number of guaranteed starters (fitness considered) came down to just 6: Rohit, Rahul, Kohli, Suryakumar, Hardik Pandya and Bhuvneshwar Kumar.

Plot thickens as the management make puzzling selection calls

On September 12th, the BCCI named the 15-man squad for the T20WC. There were no surprises in the main fifteen, but a curious name popped up in the reserves, in the form of Mohammed Shami. The speedster, who’d been frozen out of the T20 set-up completely post the 2021 T20WC, found himself in the reserves out of nowhere, despite not having played a single T20 in five months. He pipped Avesh Khan, who despite being in and around the set-up for the best part of a year, couldn’t even make it to the reserves.

Shami was named in the squads for the Australia and South Africa T20Is too, but Covid ruled him out of both series. As his replacement, the management roped in Umesh Yadav, who had last played a T20I in 2019. That Umesh leapfrogged both Avesh Khan and Umran Malik, both of whom were in the scheme of things not too long ago, came as a shock.

Soon Jasprit Bumrah was confirmed to be ruled out of the T20 World Cup, and the management added two more players, Siraj and Shardul Thakur, to the reserves. Again, considering how both players had been frozen out of the T20I set-up, the decision came as a surprise. 

Australia, South Africa T20Is raise more questions about bowling

The Australia / South Africa T20Is saw the return of Harshal Patel to the starting XI. On paper, it was supposed to be a boost for the side, considering the 31-year-old had been an integral part of the team prior to injury, but he endured a rough six games, taking 3 wickets at an average of 73.00 and ER of 10.95.  Harshal was a lock prior to his injury, but that was no longer the case.

A sure-shot starter, Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s spot also looked wobbly in the aftermath of the Australia series, where he conceded 91 runs off the 7 overs he bowled, taking a solitary wicket. Bhuvneshwar’s issues at the death had been laid bare in the Asia Cup and they continued against Australia. The veteran being rested for the South Africa series meant that he had no opportunities to turn his form around, heading into the World Cup.

Yuzvendra Chahal was dropped for the South Africa series after disappointing in one of the three games against Australia. Though he finished the series off strongly, with a match-winning 1/22 in Hyderabad, he took no part in the games against the Proteas.

The positives from the two series for India was that they found three more locks in the form of Dinesh Karthik, Axar Patel and Arshdeep Singh.

But heading into the World Cup, there were still plenty of unanswered questions.

The World Cup: team India crash out in semis

We all know what transpired in Australia. India bowed out in the semis, rather humiliatingly, as a result extending their trophy drought. 

But the campaign was not devoid of debatable selection calls, primarily the decision to bench Chahal for the entirety of the competition — even when both Ashwin and Axar severely underperformed.

Burning questions facing the management

Why was Yuzvendra Chahal dropped altogether in the eleventh hour, knowing very well that wrist-spin holds key in Australian conditions? Chahal had, after all, played the third-most matches among all bowlers in lead-up to the World Cup. He didn’t underperform either: in 19 innings post the 2021 T20WC, he picked 22 wickets at an ER of 7.53. Even assuming his returns to be poor, what happened to the promise of backing players? If senior batters are backed through torrid runs, shouldn’t the same be done with the bowlers too? 

If ‘lack of batting depth’ was the reason for excluding Chahal, couldn’t (and shouldn’t) the management have solved the problem by playing Hooda in place of either Ashwin or Axar? If ‘Hooda cannot be relied upon to bowl’ is the justification, then why was he picked as an all-rounder in the first place? And why did the coach and captain not ensure Hooda was ready to give 2-3 overs to the side, by the time the World Cup came? After all, Hooda featured in 12 matches in lead-up.

What was the point of grooming Harshal Patel, given he was considered not good enough to be picked over Shami? If ‘Shami suits Australian conditions better’ is the justification, then why was Harshal even groomed in the first place? When Dravid took over, he, the management and selectors knew the next World Cup was going to be played in Australia. Wouldn’t it have then made more sense to invest in someone better suited to the conditions?

Speaking of conditions, why was Avesh Khan, a hit-the-deck bowler whose skillset is tailor-made for Australian conditions, discarded abruptly? Avesh not making the main fifteen is still understandable because his returns were poor, but how can the likes of Siraj and Thakur make the reserves ahead of him, given they (unlike Avesh) were not even in the scheme of things?

Despite playing over 30 T20Is in lead-up to the World Cup, why was Sanju Samson never given a fair run, despite him being a standout performer in the IPL? Samson could potentially have solved the wicket-keeper conundrum for India, and he would also have added more x-factor and flexibility to the batting. 

***

Undeniably, untimely injuries went a long way in derailing India’s bid to win the 2022 T20 World Cup, but if we were to ask the question if India, through their decision making, gave themselves the best chance of winning the T20 World Cup, the answer would be a resounding no. 

For the truth is, after spending an entire year convincing the world that they would not commit the same mistakes the previous management did, Dravid & Co. went against their words and pressed the panic button the moment they were confronted by pressure. 

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