The ICC Men’s T20 World Cup produced upsets, sprung up rollercoasters and caused heartbreaks since the very first match when Namibia upset Asia Cup winners Sri Lanka. The trend continued in the First Round of the Group Stages when Scotland and Ireland both defeated two-time champions West Indies. Things were taken up a notch in the Super 12 stage when Ireland stunned England, Zimbabwe defeated Pakistan in a last-ball thriller and Netherlands beat South Africa, knocking the Proteas out of the tournament.
Meanwhile, India finished the Super 12 stage as the only team with four victories. While that can be attributed to a bit of luck, with no washouts involved in their games, it can also be attributed to the team’s consistency. Factor in the only match that they lost was against the then form-team South Africa, who were looking like favourites to top the table, India were generally at a good level throughout.
Treating oppositions the same
In a format as dynamic, fast-paced and unpredictable as the T20s and a tournament that proved to be as competitive as this edition of the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup, to avoid a major slip is a positive. It can be safely said that India are doing something right to avoid being on the receiving end of these big upsets. It isn’t the experience, bench strength or the resources alone.
India head coach Rahul Dravid, in the post-match press conference following the 71-run victory against Zimbabwe on Sunday, spoke about how India have managed to become one of the few teams that were able to avoid this trend.
“It’s a challenging format. It’s a challenging tournament,” Dravid said. “When you have six teams and just one or two results don’t go your way, as we’ve seen with some of the other teams. I think with us as well one or two results could have gone the other way and we could have won some games as well [including Asia Cup]. This is a very challenging format to be able to get through and get to the top four. Obviously it’s nice, and we’re happy about it, but hopefully we’ve got a couple of more good days in us as we go ahead.”
A lot of teams, captains and think-tanks talk about treating all oppositions the same, not taking things lightly or not letting the guard down simply based on reputation or past performances but in avoiding the pattern, India seemed to be walking the talk.
Dravid reiterated the same saying, “Irrespective of whether we’ve played South Africa in this tournament or Pakistan or Zimbabwe or Bangladesh or Netherlands, I think our processes are exactly the same. We haven’t changed anything at all irrespective of the opponent and I don’t expect that to change going into the semifinals, as well.”
The advantage of a consistent performer
For India, the biggest positives have been Virat Kohli’s and Suryakumar Yadav’s incredible consistency and a balanced performance from the bowling unit. It is why India have been able to keep up with their reputation as the team to beat in the tournament. Suryakumar, in particular, has displayed elite levels to not become the world No 1 in this format but also become the only Indian to go past 1,000 runs in this format in a single year.
In the ongoing World Cup, he has scored 225 runs in five matches at an average of 75, striking at 193.97 with three fifty-plus scores.
Dravid spoke about Suryakumar defying the innate unpredictability of the format and maintaining a consistent streak. “It’s incredible. That’s why he is the No. 1 T20 player in the world at the moment, because of that consistency in a format where it’s not easy to be consistent with the kind of strike rate he’s going at. It’s just fantastic the way he’s playing. I think he’s been very clear in his processes. He’s very clear about his tactics,” he said.
Dravid added, “I think he’s worked very hard. I think one of the things about Surya is just the amount of hard work that he’s put in in the nets, in thinking about his game, his fitness. If I look at Surya from a couple of years ago, just to see how he takes care of his body and the amount of time he spends on his fitness, I think he’s just really earning the reward for a lot of the hard work that he’s put in on and off the field, and long may it continue.”
Still vulnerable with the ball
So far, India saw a miracle against Pakistan, reaped the rewards of consistency as a team and from their star players. But with that also comes the possibility of their potential problem areas not being exposed as much. India were particularly vulnerable bowling at death before heading into the tournament. That showed against Pakistan and also against Netherlands. There were also signs of cluelessness when the Liton Das show was on in Adelaide.
While Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Co. have led the charge beautifully in the powerplay, there is scope for things going haywire later on. It begs the question, if game time was one of the factors for why Rishabh Pant featured against Zimbabwe, should Yuzvendra Chahal have got a look in considering leg-spin against England is a match-up to dwell upon?
The leg-spinner has 16 wickets in 11 matches at an average of 21.13 against England in T20Is. Instead, Axar Patel went for runs against Zimbabwe and as things stand, apart from the wicketkeeping position, he is the only player to have been rotated in the tournament so far.
“We just wanted to ensure that we have our options open, giving Rishabh an opportunity to have game time, which was really important,” explained Dravid of selection for the final match.
He added, “We just wanted to ensure that he also gets some game time so that at least all of our 15 have got some amount of game time in both the practice games and this tournament. If we have a whole set of 15 to choose from, we’ll pick what we think is the best XI for the day against the opposition looking at the pitch.”
Dravid did not rule out the possibility of Chahal being included against England if the conditions and situation demands but Axar Patel has picked up three wickets in five matches and India could have tested him in these conditions in tandem with R Ashwin in a relatively low-stakes game against Zimbabwe.
“I think we have a completely open mind about everyone in our 15. The kind of squad we’ve picked, We believe anybody who comes into the 11 will not potentially make us weaker,” the former captain said.
He spoke about Axar’s form saying, “The nature of this format is such that you can get taken apart, especially on a day like today when they lost a lot of wickets there, nothing to lose, they could go after it and he’s bowled well as well.”
He continued, “It can happen in this format. I’m not necessarily concerned. Yes, he would have liked to have had a better day than today, but having said that, he’s been someone who’s actually bowled really well for us over the last period of time.”
India’s batting in the powerplay
There is concern around India’s opening pair particularly because they hadn’t been firing as well as they would have liked to. The starts weren’t exactly explosive and in fact, rather conservative. Earlier, it was the lack of form and intent from KL Rahul that seemed like the primary concern but five games into the tournament and skipper Rohit Sharma has been dismissed four out of five times within the powerplay. He did get a fifty against Netherlands and he also acknowledged that it wasn’t as fluent as he would have hoped. It is important to note that he did make it count eventually that day, but he did get a reprieve during the powerplay.
Unlike the last time Dravid attended a press-conference and the questions revolved largely around Rahul, who has gotten two half-centuries since then, there were no questions asked about the Indian skipper’s contribution with the bat on Sunday. Rohit Sharma sure doesn’t seem to be lacking intent, and with Rahul finally easing into a more relaxed batting zone, the pressure on him to do the heavylifting during that period can take a backseat. The team would be well aware that against Jos Buttler and Co, outbatting their hitting prowess and batting depth will be one of the key elements. Without Rohit’s contribution, India’s batting line-up looks a tad disadvantaged on that aspect.
On Thursday, at Adelaide Oval, India would be hoping that the captain leads from the front and does his bit in laying a strong foundation against England.