New Zealand vs India, T20Is: Top three Takeaways from T20I series: India’s defensive mindset big concern despite series win.
Another day, another bilateral series, another win for India. Just like it is certain for the sun to set in the west every evening, it is almost certain for India to win a bilateral series, as India beat New Zealand 1-0 due to two rain-affected games in a three-match T20I series that concluded on November 22.
Out of a total of 40 T20I matches played by India in 2022 so far, the men in blue have won 28 of those with a 70 per cent win rate; they have lost 10 matches while one match was a rain-affected no result game and one game ended in a tie. Out of the 10 matches lost, two were do-or-die matches (vs Sri Lanka in Asia Cup 2022 and against England in T20 World Cup 2022 semi-final), one was a virtual knockout (vs Pakistan in Asia Cup), and in all three deciding games, India lost defending a target. Well, in a matter of 14 or so months, India have been defeated brutally twice by a margin of 10 wickets, and on both occasions, it was on the biggest stage in T20I cricket, the World Cup.
What were India’s key takeaways from the New Zealand T20I series?
The elephant in the room: India’s defensive approach in T20Is?
The bilateral series were considered an audition stage for players for the mega event. Until recently, we have been distributing opportunities to all but the deserving ones, playing players on their past exploits and not their recent form. India have not won the T20 World Cup in more than 15 years. Problems have more to do with mentality and approach than anything else. In the first T20 World Cup in 2007, which India won, the management put their egos and ageing players on the back burner and went with a fresh and young side with no real expectations of even making the semi-final stage. These days, India are considered one of the favourites in every tournament in which they participate, only to choke in the crucial matches. Reasons include - relying on past exploits rather than recent form, not supporting performers, and giving underperformers longer ropes.
On the much-debated topic of blazing away in batting powerplays, for two years India have been struggling to do that, even after knowing the problem. India have been hesitant to try a new opener in the eleven, preferring to stick with Rishabh and Kishan. Instead of trying a fresh face with the likes of Prithvi, Sanju Samson or even Devdutt Padikkal, for that matter.
The same four bowling options were seen almost on loop. While Deepak Hooda's bowling was one positive, it was nullified by the batting order of his as a genuine middle order batter is being forced to play as a finisher. No chances are being given to players like Umran Malik and Kuldeep Yadav. India clearly need genuine wicket-taking bowlers, and if the management does not trust Chahal enough, they should start looking for alternatives in bilateral matches themselves rather than giving all the game time to Chahal in bilateral matches only to ask him to serve drinks to players in World Cups.
Rishabh-Kishan Opening Experiment ends in Failure? When will Sanju get a chance?
If we talk about all the recent T20I series, India have been testing their bench strength, to say the least, but as they say, too many cooks spoil the broth. Similarly, India have been travelling with a minimum of three wicketkeepers, with only two of them getting a game and one warming the bench for an extended period of time. Yes, India’s specialist hand-picked benchwarmer is none other than Sanju Samson. Sanju made his debut in 2015 and since then has only played 16 T20 internationals, scoring 296 runs at a strike rate of 135.15. On the other hand, India have had two other wicketkeeper batters make their respective debuts after Sanju - Ishan Kishan (debut in 2021) and Rishabh Pant (debut in 2017), who have gotten more opportunities at T20I level than Sanju. Kishan has played 21 games already in two years, scoring at a strike rate of 129.16 as an opener. The strike rate gets worse when we take a look at Rishabh Pant, who strikes at just 126.37 despite having played almost four times the number of games played by Sanju (66).
As Kishan and Rishabh both failed to deliver in their two games together, India's search for a firepower opening combination has been crushed, tumbled and lit up to warm the hands in New Zealand's chilly conditions. While the openers played 31 deliveries in the second T20I, they could only score 36 of them at a rate of just 7 runs per over. In the third T20I, India’s opening stand could only last two overs, scoring just above 6 runs per over (13-1).
Pant, who has been a fantastic Test batter for India over the last 24 months, has been twice as bad in T20Is, averaging just 22.70 in 55 innings. Perhaps the selectors should just send Pant in T20Is with the Test jersey because he appears to be confused about the approach in T20 vis a vis Test matches. The question then becomes, what are the selectors and management seeing in Rishabh and Kishan to justify giving them twice as many chances as Sanju, when the numbers clearly don't appear to support the left-handed openers? Is it the left-handed flavour? Or are we seeing a 3-D saga all over again? If India want to really dominate in the powerplay, neither Rishabh nor Kishan would be the answer; bringing in fearless batters like Prithvi Shaw or Sanju Samson might be the only way forward that India can take from this series with respect to their opening woes.
Wrist Spinners? A thumb rule in T20I cricket?
After a crushing semi-final loss to England in the T20 World Cup, one thing was for sure: India still haven’t addressed the problem of finding a genuine wicket taker in Twenty20 cricket. India’s search began after it they were defeated by Pakistan by a crushing margin of 10 wickets in the T20 World Cup in 2021. Yuzvendra Chahal, India's wrist spinner, was brought back into the lineup after the 2021 debacle. Ravi Bishnoi was given his share of playing time in the bilateral series between T20 World Cup 2021 and 2022. Even Kuldeep Yadav was brought on for a few matches. But when the biggest stage came, India went on to drop all three of their wrist spinners, or, shall we say, wicket-takers, and went with a defensive approach. The same defensive approach that has killed India’s batting has further damaged India’s winning options.
In T20 cricket, it’s almost a rule of thumb that wrist spinners are more successful at taking wickets than finger spinners. India went with Ashwin over Chahal in the entire T20 World Cup. Except for India, all four of the top teams in the semi-finals had wrist spinners in their starting lineup. If we analyse the top 10 wicket-takers from January 2007 through November 2022, five out of the top 10 wicket-takers in T20I cricket have been wrist spinners. Refer to the table below.
Shakib Al Hasan
*O- Overs, W- Wickets, Eco- Economy, Ave- Average, SR- Strike Rate
India do have Chahal, who has been the country’s prominent wicket-taker in the middle overs for almost eight years now. For reasons more enigmatic than the Bermuda Triangle, India's management chose Rahul Chahar, Varun Chakravarthy and Ravichandran Ashwin over Yuzvendra Chahal in the 2021 T20 World Cup and 2022 World Cup, respectively. Chahal has picked a total of 87 T20I wickets vs 81 for the combined total T20I wickets of Ashwin (72), Chakravarthy (2) and Chahar (7). Chahal was never benched prior to the T20 World Cup in 2021 and played in all of the bilateral series leading up to the World Cup. Similar was the case in the 2022 World Cup, where he featured in almost all the T20I matches of the bilateral series only to warm the bench and see an off-spinner cum carrom ball bowler play in his place.
When India know the next Twenty20 World Cup will be held in 24 months, the only discussion in the dressing room should be about which players can win matches on any given day on Caribbean and United States of America pitches. India should probably send a scouting unit to understand the pitches there and start building a pool of 15-20 players who will adapt to the pitches there right away, and then decide who to go with based on recent form. Rather than simply chopping and changing any random player at any given time, this will only result in more and more players like Dinesh Karthik, who was groomed for six months to be the finisher, only to discover before the semi-final game that he cannot clear the big boundaries in Australia and they had to bring in Rishabh Pant forcibly.