The disappointment of the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup last year may be fresh in the memories of some, but the fact remains that India have already notched up two series sweeps in the shortest format since then. After defeating New Zealand 3-0 right after the World Cup in November, India completed a series win with the same scoreline against West Indies on Sunday.
Agreed, both these victories came at home but with another T20 World Cup lined up later this year, India will be pleased with how they have set things in motion.
There was a great deal of uncertainty when India ended their World Cup campaign in the UAE. Virat Kohli had stepped down as captain, Ravi Shastri’s tenure as coach had ended, and the manner of the defeats against Pakistan and New Zealand in the tournament suggested India needed to rethink their approach in T20 cricket.
Considering these points, there’s no denying that the series wins against New Zealand and West Indies, even if at home, offer hope going forward. With a new full-time captain in Rohit Sharma and a new head coach in Rahul Dravid, India seem to have begun preparations for the next World Cup in right earnest.
And the victories against West Indies are particularly promising as a number of boxes got ticked. In the three matches, India got a good look at the squad strength, they chased a target, posted strong totals after losing the toss, and defended those totals smartly despite dew being a factor.
Above all, though, the most impressive aspect was that India seemed to have certain clear strategies. In the past, they were criticised for lacking a vision in the shortest format. But against the West Indies, they came out with well-defined roles for the players and deserve credit for firing as a unit.
Here’s a look at some of the big takeaways from India’s T20I series win against West Indies:
One of the concerns for India in the recent past was the start of the innings with the bat. In Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Virat Kohli, they had three accomplished batters at the top of the order but the trio’s tendency to turn “anchor” – for India and in the IPL – would add to the pressure on the middle order.
This is something the team addressed against West Indies, with Rohit going on an all-out attack as an opener. Till the series was alive – in the first two games – the skipper came to the crease with a clear plan to search for boundaries.
In the first T20I, India were chasing a target of 158 and Ishan Kishan, the other opener, was struggling to get going. But the hosts ended up winning the match with seven balls to spare thanks to a remarkable assault by Rohit at the top of the order. The right-hander smashed a 19-ball 40 to set up the chase and ease the pressure on the middle order.
In the second game too, Rohit made just 19 off 18 but the intent was there for all to see. Kishan had fallen early but that didn’t stop Rohit from looking for boundaries. He was struggling for rhythm himself in that match but even when he defended, you could see he was trying to make things happen by shuffling across or swinging hard.
This was a far cry from the Rohit of the past, who would take his time to settle into an innings. With the array of strokes at his disposal, Rohit being ultra aggressive as an opener could be a game-changing switch for India going forward.
Middle order stepping up
In terms of batting, the other big takeaway for India was the success of their middle order. It got the job done in each and every game of the series. Again, this is an area that has troubled India in the past but in Suryakumar Yadav, Rishabh Pant and Venkatesh Iyer, there’s a lot to be hopeful about.
After Rohit’s fireworks at the top in the opener, India found themselves in a tricky position having lost three wickets for 21 runs in the middle overs. But Yadav and Venkatesh Iyer added an unbeaten stand of 48 runs from 28 balls to take the team home.
In the second game, it was Pant who took charge and added 76 runs off 39 balls along with Iyer to help India post a formidable total. And in the final game of the series, Yadav and Venkatesh Iyer’s partnership of 91 runs from 41 balls led India to a match-winning total.
Three challenging situations and each time the middle order found a way. And it wasn’t just the strokeplay or the volume of runs but also the fact that Yadav, Pant and Venkatesh Iyer had to switch positions in the order but still managed to get the job done as a unit.
“There has been a conversation around that we need to be flexible, cannot be predictable in this format,” Dravid told media after the series win. “Certainly through the middle order, it is an area we want to improve. We want to get better at it especially when we are batting first, we want to set good totals.
“And sometimes we need that flexibility when you want to take down particular bowlers, or combinations, or scenarios. You need to have the right people batting in a really short game... sometimes five or six balls to the right batter against the right bowler can actually be the difference in the game.”
Wrist spin’s success
One of the big positives with the ball for India was Ravi Bishnoi. Making his international debut in the series, the young leg-spinner was impressive each time he got the ball. He bowled his full quota of 12 overs in the series and returned with figures of 2/17 (he was declared the player of the match for this on debut), 1/30 and 0/29 respectively in the three matches.
India used just two spinners in the series in Bishnoi and Yuzvendra Chahal, with the latter sitting out the last game. And the two leg-spinners complimented each other and bowled well in tandem.
West Indies had plenty of firepower in the middle order with the likes of Nicholas Pooran and Rovman Powell, but Chahal and Bishnoi weren’t afraid to back their strengths and bowl aggressively in search of wickets.
In the recent past, skipper Rohit has spoken a number of times about giving Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav a long run. Now with Bishnoi making an impact, India have a few quality wrist spinners to choose from and it will be interesting to see how they use them going forward.
Ravindra Jadeja will be making his comeback in the next series against Sri Lanka and the left-arm orthodox spinner will always remain in contention for a spot thanks to his all-round abilities. But after what we saw in the West Indies series, the option of playing two wicket-taking wrist spinners could continue to tempt India.
Death bowling on point
India lost the toss in the second and third games and were asked to bat first both times. While the batters did deliver, the bowlers were still left with challenging prospects. West Indies had depth in their batting order, their team was full of power hitters, and there was plenty of dew at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata.
In order to defend the totals, India needed their bowlers to hold their nerves at the death. And that’s exactly what they did.
Pooran and Powell put on a stand of 100 runs from 60 balls in the second game. The duo showcased some stunning strokeplay and kept their team firmly in the chase. But their partnership was ended in what was a sensational penultimate over by Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
With the visitors having two set batters at the crease and needing 29 runs to win off 12 balls, Kumar ended up bowling an over in which he conceded just four runs and even got a wicket. That over killed the contest and propelled India towards a series win.
The right-arm pacer brought all his experience to the fore and marked a much-awaited return to form. He had been struggling for rhythm since making a comeback from injury last year and the Indian team would be thrilled with his success.
And finally in the third game, it was the turn of Harshal Patel and Shardul Thakur to deliver. West Indies needed 37 runs to win from 18 balls with four wickets in hand, but Thakur and Patel took three wickets and conceded just 19 runs in the last three overs.
Despite the absence of their premier fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah, India managed to defend two totals in testing conditions and that is undoubtedly a big step in the right direction.