India's Approach in T20Is: No India player except for Ishan Kishan feature in Top 10 ICC Men's T20I rankings of bowlers, batters and all-rounders.
In this age 3-second KYC approval, 5-minute personal loan disbursement, 8-minute grocery delivery, and 10-minute food delivery, we have come a long way in this fast-paced world that we are living in. Today’s generation wants everything rather quickly and has been running out of patience faster than Shoaib Akhter’s express deliveries. Sooner or later, this fast-paced world was, of course, going to get enamoured to T20 cricket over any other form of cricket. With the Indian Premier League (IPL) now becoming the second most valuable sporting league in the world after its media rights were sold for a whopping INR 48,390 crores, behind the National Football League (NFL) of the USA, it is fair to say that T20 cricket will only get better from here.
On the contrary, the Indian cricket team hasn’t been able to win the ICC T20 World Cup ever since their glorious success in its inaugural edition. The cricket pundits would have thought, with the IPL in place, that India would be a formidable team in T20s. But it has rather been the other way around. Since the IPL began in 2008, India just hasn’t been able to get their hands on the T20 silverware. The fans are left in circles, wondering what the key ingredient was that had been missing in India’s T20 international dish. Ever since T20 World Cup 2007, India’s batting and bowling approach have taken a step back rather than a step forward. T20 cricket requires unconventional, out of the box cricket, whereas India would rather be playing India’s famous box cricket in T20s.
The middle-class approach
India's approach to T20s has become akin to a middle-class family saving their salary to get by for the month. A conservative approach in T20s restricts India from utilising their potent middle order and lower order batters. For instance, in ICC T20 World Cup 2014 final against Sri Lanka, on a slow and skiddy wicket, India were 64/2 at the halfway mark with Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh in the middle and powerhouses like Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja still to come but instead of putting pressure on the Lankans, against whom India have always had an upper-hand, India slowed down, feared losing further wickets and that’s where T20 is different from Tests or ODIs.
One have to be fearless as a team to dominate the opponents. This mindset of being unafraid of losing wickets while pushing the run-rate is something that the two-time T20 world champions, West Indies, have thrived on. The West Indies and new England under Eoin Morgan have taught the T20 generation to never take the foot off the gas pedal in this format and go hard no matter how many wickets are left in the bank. Either go all out, or get all out trying to go big. There’s no ‘in between’ zone in T20 cricket. This is no success mantra; a T20 game changes sides in a span of just six to seven deliveries.
Of course, there will be days when the pitch is difficult to bat on and the bowlers have plenty of help, but at least two to three batters must consistently show intent, go hard and put some runs on the board for the bowlers to defend. Unlike Tests or ODIs, the game is more like driving a Hennessey Venom GT with nitrogen filling in beast mode than driving a Maruti 800 to save fuel.
India desperately need the openers, not just one but both, to fire from ball one from both the ends, the one down and two down players to keep the momentum going onwards and upwards instead of eating up deliveries like it's dinner time, which only puts pressure on the finishers to do the job like a corporate intern who has to clean up all the mess of the seniors.
The bowling units need to be innovative with their variations, knowing what ball the batter would be most uncomfortable facing and the field placements to back up the chances created. While most of the teams are now accustomed to using a spinner in the first over or inside the powerplay, the Team India management believes in the stone age methodology of utilising spinners after the first six.
Some of these developments have been witnessed under the leadership of Rohit Sharma but, India need a lot to catch up before the ICC Men's T20 World Cup 2022 scheduled in October 2022.
"Jiska kaam usi ko saaje"
This famous quote in Hindi roughly translates to: "The work suits the hands of the one skilled to do it." India have been afraid of benching their stalwarts, their so-called ODI or Test specialists. We all saw what India did in the inaugural T20 World Cup, when stalwarts like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble were benched for the younger folks to don the T20I jersey.
Even back then, it sparked huge controversy but it was all brushed under the carpet once India returned with the T20 WC trophy. T20 cricket needs innovation. It needs young legs doing acrobatic fielding or playing the reverse or the ramp shots or a bowler with an unconventional action and which one might not find in the cricketing text books. With the IPL giving wings to so many talented players, India need to build a professional T20 side with players who do not abide by the cricketing books.
While IPL has been a boon, it has also been a curse with regards to the amount of data it captures and provides to international teams. Every player and coach in the world knows that Virat Kohli cannot play the scoop shot, Rohit Sharma cannot play the switch hit, Shreyas Iyer has sweaty palms facing short deliveries, Ravindra Jadeja will bowl six balls straight at a good length and Jasprit Bumrah will always squeeze in a yorker under pressure. The world has come far ahead and so have the cricket analysts who have been spoon-feeding data about the opponents, who are weak against what and who can score where.
Apart from the sub-continent teams, all the foreign teams have been bowling/batting as per the conference room meeting set by the analyst rather than the coaches. The opposition batters, fielders and bowlers are all prepared for match situations, days in advance. To tackle such a situation, India need batters and bowlers who are specialists in T20s, who can play the reverse or switch hits at will to put the bowlers off their plans. A mystery bowler or a strategic field placement which can outfox the batters or a rallying catch between two fielders at the boundary line which boosts the morale of the team - India needs a lot of catching up to do in this regard.
Numbers Never Lie
The ICC T20I bowlers and batters rankings gives a glimpse of what should be India’s approach in T20Is. Five out of the top 10 T20I bowlers are wrist spinners. India, even though they have the luxury of one of the smartest spinners in their ranks, haven’t quite been able to penetrate with wrist spinners in T20Is. In fact, except for the recent inclusion of Ishan Kishan (number 7 T20I batter with 689 points), none of India’s players featured in the top 10 of ICC T20I rankings for bowlers, batters or all-rounder categories. This pretty much sums up India’s journey in T20Is, even though India apparently have the best T20 league in the world.
T20 was looked at as a batter’s game, but it has been the bowlers who have delivered the knockout punch in the dying moments. In the bowling department, T20 cricket requires variation in terms of the left-arm angle or mystery/wrist spin. A team which has these ingredients in their recipe has been historically proven to win the T20 World Cup. Whether it was Irfan Pathan and RP Singh’s 3-fers in the 2007 T20 WC final, or in subsequent editions Abdul Razzaq’s 3-20, Ryan Sidebottoms' 2-26, Sunil Narine’s 3-9, Rangana Herath’s 1-23, Brathwaite’s 3-23 or the new T20 champion, Australia’s Josh Hazelwood’s 3-16.
If India are looking to build a side for ICC T20 World Cup 2022 in Australia, they should establish a side with specialists in all the departments – specialist openers, specialist middle order and finisher batters, a genuine batting all-rounder who can cover three overs under pressure just in case one of the specialist bowlers is smashed and four specialist bowlers who are all different from each other to bring in a different flavour of angle, pace, line, length and spin whenever each one comes on to bowl.