Heading into a World Cup year, India’s T20 game looks like it is on the right track but there are still gaps to be filled especially on the batting side of things.
The make-up of the side could be very different by the time the World Cup rolls into town as Hardik Pandya could well be bowling by then.
It could give the team an option to play an extra batsman or bowler as they feel fit. Still, the series against Australia raised some questions of its own.
Dhawan, Rahul, Rohit — who will the two at the top be?
Rohit Sharma, given his record in white ball cricket over the past few years, will probably walk into the side but Shikhar Dhawan’s form in the format might make it difficult to leave him out and given how the left-hander usually does in ICC tournaments, India will want to keep him around.
His form during the IPL for the Delhi Capitals was superb as was KL Rahul’s and they haven’t done all that badly on the Australia tour. So how does one pick between the two?
Dhawan (ODIs and T20Is): 74, 30, 16, 1, 52, 28
Rahul (ODIs and T20Is): 12, 76, 5, 51, 30, 0
Rather, does one pick all three? Sanju Samson is currently playing in the XI as a pure batsman but he hasn’t quite taken his chances. If Dhawan’s form holds, Virat Kohli and the team management will have to give serious consideration to playing all three openers in the XI.
Either which way, it won’t be an easy choice but Rahul does play down the order in the ODIs and he might have to adapt to that role again. We are in for some interesting times and that brings us to the next topic.
Hardik Pandya is doing great but India needs more finishers. Such is the T20 format that teams invariably come into the slog overs looking for some big runs. And honestly, big runs don’t come without big risks.
So while Hardik can strike it well, it would be great if the Indian team can have some cover. At Mumbai Indians, Pandya has Keiron Pollard to back him up and that affords him even greater freedom. In the India line-up, we don’t have anyone to supplement him.
Maybe Rishabh Pant could have been that player but his form and confidence have deserted him. So perhaps the team management will look at KL Rahul to fill that slot or maybe even a Suryakumar Yadav. Samson could also be the answer but his form in international cricket has remained sketchy.
It’s still early days but India will want to get a fix on the problem and give the said batsman a decent run before the big tournament.
T Natarajan is exactly what Kohli was looking for. The left-armer was sent to Australia as a net bowler but got a chance to play in both the ODIs and the T20Is as a result of injuries to Varun Chakravarthy and Navdeep Saini and he made the most of those chances. In the three T20s alone, Natarajan claimed 6 wickets for 83 in 12 overs at an economy rate of 6.91 per over.
The performance earned the praise of not only the player of the series Pandya but also skipper Kohli.
“Special mention for Natarajan, in the absence of (Mohammed) Shami and Jasprit (Bumrah), he stood out and really delivered under pressure,” Kohli said at the post-match press conference.
Kohli added: “It is outstanding because he is playing his first few games at the international level. He looks very composed, he is a humble and hard working guy, he is sure of what he is doing.”
The left-armer’s natural angle is a variation the team can use and they have been hunting for a player who can provide that. Khaleel Ahmed has been tried too but for the moment, Natarajan’s ability to nail the yorker gives him the edge.
Kohli, however, sounded a note of warning too. The work, in a sense, for Natarajan is just beginning.
“I hope he continues to keep working hard on his game and gets better because a left-arm bowler is an asset for any team and if he can keep bowling in this way consistently, it will be a great thing for us heading into the World Cup next year,” said Kohli.
You drop some and then, you drop some more
India’s fielding has been abysmal and it has been this way for a while now. Against Australia, India put on an all-round show — catches were dropped, stumpings were missed and there was a lot of misfielding too. They might blame it on the lights but India’s standards have been slipping consistently.
They were poor against Bangladesh, against the West Indies and even against New Zealand. So this isn’t an aberration anymore. This is a problem. The concentration has been poor and perhaps there is a touch of overconfidence too. The rusty argument doesn’t work as most of India’s players were playing in the IPL. The daily drill should have got the reflexes up and running again.
Good fielding can be the difference between winning and losing even in high-scoring matches. Catches win matches alright but good ground fielding will help you win even more matches. India dropped eight catches in just the T20I series and that is way, way too many for a side that hopes to win the World Cup.