Amidst the doom and gloom of a 4-1 hammering by a ruthless Australian side this month, some positive news emerged for a beleaguered Mahendra Singh Dhoni – if India can sweep the upcoming three-match Twenty20 International series against Australia 3-0, they will shoot up from eighth place to the top of the table.
While that may say more for the ludicrous nature of the rankings, it is one ray of hope that the captain will cling on to. There could not have arrived a better way to turn around what has been a dismal tour – whitewash Australia 3-0 ahead of the World Twenty20 in March and return home victorious as the number one team in the world.
In theory, it sounds great but in reality, not so much. For starters, India’s record after the loss in the final to Sri Lanka in the 2014 edition of the World Twenty20 has been abysmal. They have only played five completed games since then and have lost four of them, with one of those losses coming against Zimbabwe in July.
No change in tactics
Unlike other teams, which often choose to blood youngsters and test potential new talents in the Twenty20 format, India in the recent past have tended not to differentiate between the Twenty20 and the One Day International formats. This reflects in their selection choices – in the recent Twenty20 series against South Africa at home (which India lost 2-0 and the third game was abandoned), the Indian team contained pretty much the same personnel as the ODI team.
Things looked like moving in a similar direction when the team for the Twenty20 series was announced. Forget giving youngsters a chance, the selectors decided to resurrect Yuvraj Singh and Ashish Nehra’s moribund international careers by giving them a call-up to the national team. Suresh Raina, who had missed out in the ODI squad, was also picked in the squad. Originally the only newcomer as such in the Twenty20 squad was Hardik Pandya.
However, a combination of injuries and bad luck has ensured that the Indian team that will step out for the first Twenty20 on Tuesday will have its fair share of young talent. Mohammad Shami’s injury right at the start of the tour led to the exciting Jasprit Bumrah called up as cover. Bumrah impressed with the ball when he was given his debut in the fifth ODI and is a promising pick. Ajinkya Rahane and Bhuvneshwar Kumar are also out with injuries and their places will be taken by Gurkeerat Singh Mann and Rishi Dhawan who were part of the ODI squad. Many will understandably argue that it should have been the reverse – Mann and Dhawan should have got their opportunities in the Twenty20 format first before moving up to the ODI stage. Unfortunately, Manish Pandey, who impressed quite a few with a masterful century in the final ODI, has not found a place in the Twenty20 squad.
The World Cup campaign starts
Any other year and the Twenty20 series against Australia would not have assumed much significance. Coming as it does though just two months before the World Twenty20, this series will serve as the first indicator of India’s chances at the tournament. An under-pressure Dhoni, who has not seen much success lately, has hinted at the fact that the upcoming World Twenty20 in India could be his swansong on the international stage. As such, there will be a burning desire on his part to finish his cricketing career amidst a blaze of glory on home grounds.
Then there is the bittersweet story of Yuvraj Singh. Once the hero who conquered cancer and was the star of India’s twin triumphs at the 2007 World Twenty20 and the 2011 World Cup, the swashbuckling Punjab all-rounder’s career had seemed to have ended in misery after his abject batting display against Sri Lanka in the final of the 2014 World Twenty20 championships. Sport though is a great leveller and all eyes will be on Yuvraj Singh’s performance in Australia to see if he can put an end to a glorious career on his own terms.
There might be a pall of gloom hanging over the Indian cricket team after their loss in the ODI series but make no mistake, it only takes a couple of wins for the positivity to return. With a World Cup coming up, Dhoni will be looking to do exactly that.