When India found themselves at 5 for 3 in the fourth over in the semi-final of the World Cup, a problem that seemed only an illusion turned into a reality. A series of decisions made after the fall of the third wicket made it evident that despite the penumbra of questions asked, the team management was either not expecting the situation to arise or did not have a tested plan to encounter it.
Dinesh Karthik, a player who had faced nine balls in the entire World Cup, came out to bat in the pressure cooker situation. He opened his account as early as ball number 21 that he faced. Five balls later, he was walking back to the den. With around 220 runs needed, the hopes of a fightback from India’s middle-order rested on Rishabh Pant, a batsman perfectly capable of getting out on the first ball he faces, attempting a reverse sweep of a pacer, cursing himself while walking back not for the choice of shot but for not being able to get a proper connection. Hardik Pandya, who is tailor-made to ensure quick runs at the end of an innings but mostly untested in tough batting conditions, joined Pant in the middle.
The management’s futile plan of shielding Dhoni for later would have appeared even more drastically miscalculated if Ravindra Jadeja had not channeled his anger to get India close and ensure that Dhoni’s contribution appeared useful.
The team had as many as five options for the two places available in the top 7 at the World Cup. The problem was the lack of surety about who the best 2 were for an important day and once the selection is done, where to fit the two in the top 7. At 5 for 3 with the captain and vice-captain dismissed and Dhoni being reduced to a shadow of his earlier years, the management panicked and so did the team.
The T20I phase of India’s tour of West Indies marks the beginning of a period when the teams have around a year to plan for the World T20 in Australia next year.
India Squad For T20Is against West Indies - Virat Kohli (capt), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Rishabh Pant (wk), Krunal Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Washington Sundar, Rahul Chahar, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Khaleel Ahmed, Deepak Chahar, Navdeep Saini
The selected squad misses key names like Jasprit Bumrah, Hardik, Dhoni, Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav. While Bumrah and Hardik are stated to be rested, the future of the other three in India’s T20 team still needs some clarity. Knowing the selectors and management, one must not expect to get much clarity either.
It is good to see Shreyas Iyer in the squad but the omission of Shubman Gill is surprising. The young batsman had a terrific IPL and has the backing of cricket pundits on being equipped with the technique and skill required to solve India’s middle-order muddle. The selection of Manish Pandey, who has a strike rate of 112 in the last two seasons of the IPL while batting at numbers 4-7 (one of the lowest among Indian batsmen with at least 10 innings), ahead of Gill who strikes at 129 runs per 100 balls, batting at the same position, is even more surprising. Gill’s average of 35.9 is also higher than Pandey’s paltry 24.1.
In the all-rounder category, the surprise takes shape in the form of the 20-year-old Washington Sundar, who bowled just 9 overs in the 3 matches he played for Royal Challengers Bangalore during last season, a number too small to even talk about how he fared. While Sundar who is just 20 years old is an exciting prospect for the future, India could have tried to blend in a leggie in Shreyas Gopal who has played 24 matches in the last two IPL seasons striking at an impressive 15 balls per wicket with the ball. He is a decent batter at the tail end of the innings as well, a concept that has evaporated from India’s system. In the bowling department, it is good to see the likes of Rahul Chahar and Navdeep Saini getting recognized for their performances. The others are seasoned T20 bowlers.
Overall, the squad looks strong with a mix of experience and youth. When key players like Bumrah and Hardik are back, the squad will largely pick itself for next year’s world event. Now, it is up to the captain and coach to start identifying an ideal XI and have back-ups ready for every role. Considering the options available for the upcoming series, it will be difficult to play a sixth bowling option. Another important aspect that the management has failed to uncover is KL Rahul’s role. If the team plans to mould him as a middle-order batsman, an alternate opener should have been called in case of an injury to a regular opener. If Rahul is the preferred third opener, he should wait in line for his turn, which will enable the team to help a proper middle-order batsman find his feat.