Updated: Sep 12
Top Takeaways from Asia Cup 2022 for India. Top-order look stable, middle-order shaky and bowling unit need some strengthening. India's vows ahead of ICC T20 World Cup 2022.
After winning the inaugural T20 World Cup in South Africa, the Indian team has not been able to get their hands on the T20 silverware since then. Ever since the 2007 T20 World Cup, T20 cricket and franchise T20 cricket have ingested their mark on every cricket follower. The Indian Premier League (IPL), the richest and most followed T20 league in the world, was formed with an aim of improving India’s performance in the T20 format. However, the tides for India have changed ever since.
Bilateral series? The reason behind India’s struggle in big tournaments?
The Asia Cup 2022 was converted to the T20 format in order for Asian teams to gain a competitive advantage over their respective T20 teams prior to the World Cup. The other Asian teams, including Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Afghanistan are peaking at the right time before the big tournament. India, on the other hand, have more questions than answers after a disappointing Asia Cup 2022. India, who have played 26 T20I matches so far in 2022, have won 18 and lost in eight of those, with a win percentage of 69.23 per cent. The numbers don’t reveal the true picture for India though. India haven’t been able to hold their nerves in crunch situations, especially in multi-nation tournament matches. In fact, India look like a different team altogether in bilateral series as compared to in international multi-team tournaments.
An average Indian cricket team fan will ask - Is India’s failure in tournaments a sign of lack of preparation? Are India playing too many bilateral series of late? Is resting key players affecting the camaraderie? Does the top players' not playing together more often than not affect the balance of the squad?
In bilateral series, it looks like India have backups of backups while faltering in multi-nation tournament matches. Are bilateral series boosting the confidence of players only to succumb under pressure in big tournaments when playing against a different opponent every other day? The numbers don’t back India either. Since 2018, India have participated in two T20 multi-nation tournaments, one being ICC World T20 2021 and the other being Asia Cup 2022. Among the four matches played in ICC World T20 2021, India could only manage to win against Afghanistan and the associate nations - Namibia and Scotland, while losing to Pakistan and New Zealand without any real competition.
In Asia Cup 2022, India also faltered under pressure, managing only two wins in the group stage and losing both crucial matches in the Super 4 stage, against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, respectively. India’s captain, Rohit Sharma, addressed the media on the burning issue of winning bilateral series and choking in tournaments.
"In tournaments like Asia Cup and World Cup, where there are multiple opponents, there is more pressure. In a bilateral series you play against the same opposition for three-five matches so you can plan better."
India’s Selection Conundrum
India Openers look set
Ever since the onset of Rohit-Dravid era, India have distributed debut caps and opportunities to players like products sold in a flea market. While it looks like India have pinned down four positions, two openers in the form of KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma are further accompanied by Virat Kohli and Suryakumar Yadav at three and four, respectively. Irrespective of Virat Kohli scoring a century against Afghanistan as an opener, it was just like throwing a spanner in the works. India would not look beyond KL Rahul and Rohit as openers, and Kohli can only be the backup opener if required. Suryakumar, without a doubt, seals the number four spot with his quick game play against both spin and fast bowlers.
India's middle-order and finishing vows
The jigsaw puzzle for selection starts with the middle-order, with India trying to fit in a left-handed batter for variety. Apart from Rishabh Pant, there is no pure left-handed batter in India’s armoury, with Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel being all-rounders. If India plans to play Rishabh Pant, who has been fairly below average in international T20 cricket with a strike rate of 126.32, it will only mean one thing: Dinesh Karthik will be shown the bench. India were counting on Karthik to flourish in the final overs. He had been regarded as the specialist finisher in T20s for the previous five months. In fact, Karthik’s strike rates have been 165.12, 158.77, 167.86 and 133.10 in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2022, respectively.
The confusion for India further widens with the injury sustained by versatile all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja, who is most likely to miss ICC World T20 2022 due to a knee injury. Ravindra is India's real 3D (3-dimensional) player who could bat in the middle overs, finish the games with a healthy strike rate, bowl two odd overs and that rocket of an arm of Sir Jadeja, for which people could pay extra money for. Jadeja’s absence means the left-handed flavour is missing, which opens the door for Rishabh Pant solely on the basis of his being a left-hander. Deepak Hooda and Axar Patel would fancy their chances for the all-rounder’s role if India becomes a bowler short, immediately impacting the balance of the squad. The injury to Jadeja will effectively end the country's luxury of having six bowling options in T20 cricket.
Deepak Hooda has been prepared to bat either as an opener or in the middle-order leading up to the Asia Cup, as he averages 71.01 against spin and 37 against pacers. However, in this Asia Cup, Hooda was only used as a finisher. Hooda's poor performance and below-par average against pacers rule out Hooda as finisher as the death overs are to be dominated by the pace battery on hard, bouncy Australian wickets.
Six bowlers? A thumb rule in T20 cricket?
Is India's pace battery still uncertain? The resurgence of Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja as genuine high-quality all-rounders has given India the liberty to play three pacers and one specialist spinner, with Hardik being the fourth seamer and Jaddu the second spinner. This Asia Cup was more like an eye opener for the Indian team and management as the importance of genuine all-rounders and the cushion the sixth bowler provides in T20Is is for everyone to see.
Even Captain Rohit Sharma was pretty much aware of the importance and flexibility a sixth bowling option brings to the table as he spoke at the press conference.
Is Bhuvneshwar Kumar India's third seamer? A black hole in the setup?
India’s swing king, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who is most likely to take charge of the new ball in the World Cup along with Bumrah (if fit), has very contrasting numbers. Bhuvi’s numbers in powerplay vs death overs flips like a sunny side omelette to become scrambled eggs. In T20Is played in 2022, Kumar had an economy of 5.30 while taking 17 wickets inside powerplay and an economy rate of 9.58, taking 13 wickets in overs between 15 and 20. Even the captains have realised Bhuvi’s primary skill is the new ball, and hence only 19 overs have been bowled by Bhuvi in 13 innings at the death, as compared to a mammoth 46 overs in 21 innings in the first six. This leaves India with Deepak Chahar, who is almost a carbon copy of Bhuvneshwar being just an inch taller and some extra inches in his batting abilities as compared to Kumar.
India’s persistence with Avesh Khan might just come in handy as Avesh and Bumrah are the only hit the deck kind of bowlers in India’s pace bowling setup. Arshdeep Singh will bring in the left-arm angle flavour and is almost a certainty in India’s playing eleven with his ability to swing the new ball, and he can also bowl pin-point yorkers at the death to accompany the yorker king, Jasprit. With a poor Asia cup, chants of bringing experience, or rather Mohammed Shami's ageing legs, are escalating. With only one spot available and four players auditioning - Bhuvneshwar, Chahar, Avesh and Shami, who will be the third bowler along with Bumrah and Arshdeep? Arshdeep is someone that the selectors and captain would have to scratch their heads on as the team otherwise looks pretty set.
Will India look beyond Yuzvendra Chahal for a spinner?
If India plan to go ahead with only one spinner, it very much seems like Yuzvendra Chahal would be in the starting eleven more often than not. It would be very unfair for the talented Ravi Bishnoi, whose wrong ‘un and fast googly can actually be a surprise package for opponents in the World Cup. Bishnoi can also extract extra bounce on Australian pitches, which can trouble the batters further, apart from being unable to read the bowler from his hand.
On the other hand, Chahal has become quite predictable these days, with his line predominantly being outside off whenever under pressure. Much like Bishnoi, even Chahal doesn’t have much experience bowling in Australia in T20Is as he has just played in three innings, picking up four wickets at an economy of 9.75. The other spin option is Ravichandran Ashwin, the off-spin cum carrom ball bowler, who is more likely to be a bench warmer unless and until the opposition has a slew of left-handers.
It will be rather enthralling to see who will be there in India’s starting eleven in the T20 World Cup with so many injuries, a topsy-turvy selection committee and a bench full of promising players. The only things that might hurt Indian supporters as always, will be chaotic team selection and vague roles for players more than anything else. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is expected to announce India’s squad for ICC Men's T20 World Cup 2022 on September 16, and like always, the Indian supporters will be ready for some shockers in the form of surprises.