India’s final competitive preparations for the T20 World Cup starting later this month ended in much the same way as they had begun – with a humbling defeat. If it was Australia who had clinched the first of India’s six Twenty20 Internationals in a fortnight, then it was South Africa’s turn to come out triumphant in the last. These two losses, however, bookended four consecutive victories that enabled Rohit Sharma’s men to pull off 2-1 results in both showdowns and extend a spectacular charge in bilateral series since November, with nine wins and one draw in 10 faceoffs in different parts of the world.
On the face of it, these results would indicate that India take form, confidence, momentum and morale to Australia, where they will make another attempt to win their first global title since the Champions Trophy in 2013. And while there might be some merit to that line of thinking, it’s undeniable that these last six games have exposed gaping holes in one department that, until a month and a half back, seemed to be in fine fettle.
Traditionally, India’s strongest cricketing suit has been their batting, populated by some of the greatest players to have graced the international stage. Going into the Asia Cup in the UAE in late August, though, there was justified apprehension surrounding this historic strength. Two of the designated top six – KL Rahul and Virat Kohli – had been no more than fringe players in the era of Rohit Sharma, Rahul Dravid and unfettered aggression, and not many were convinced that these two technically correct batsmen could make the switch from innings-building to all-out attack from ball one seamlessly.
Kohli’s second wind
The last month and a half has revealed that those fears have been unfounded. Refreshed after a month’s break from the sport, Kohli has found a second wind, batting with an authority and composure that was missing for the better part of the last three years. Rahul has been like the proverbial Curate’s egg, good in parts, but clearly, he is not out of his depth. These two vital cogs at the top of the tree have reinforced the merit of India’s hell-for-leather approach that has seen the team top 190 in 10 of 21 matches while batting first, a far cry from the past when India’s attempts at setting a target were mired in hesitancy, tentativeness and mental indecision, none of which have any place in the modern T20 firmament.
Suryakumar Yadav’s extraordinary run of form, propelled by equal measures of self-belief, innovativeness, innate creativity and a complete lack of fear of failure, has provided the X factor India had thought Rishabh Pant would provide but which the spunky wicketkeeper-batsman has struggled to deliver. That India are in a position to consistently bench someone with the destructive abilities of Pant speaks to a fount of batting riches available to the team management and instils them as one of the favourites to advance from their group, though that favouritism has to now be tempered by the bowling profligacy that is rapidly becoming an unpleasant headache with far-reaching ramifications.
Thrice in the last five full matches – the Nagpur game against Australia was a rain-hit eight-over shootout – India have leaked more than 200 runs. Especially in the end overs, there has been a distinct lack of ideas and imaginations, with juicy full tosses and ridiculous long hops competing to embarrass the bowling group. There has been a touch of helplessness that is alarming from an outside perspective and definitely concerning from within the set-up.
Jasprit Bumrah’s absence
Even the previously pseudo-encouraging news that a turnaround will emanate once Jasprit Bumrah returns is no longer in the realms of reality. The undisputed spearhead of the Indian attack will, it has been confirmed, miss the World Cup with a back injury that isn’t as serious as originally feared, but still potent enough to keep him out for six weeks. Bumrah is a versatile and multi-skilled bowler capable of bowling at different stages of the innings but particularly effective at the death with his wonderful slower ball variations and a laser-like yorker that homes in on limb and stump with unerring accuracy. In his absence, the one weapon India possessed at the final stages of the innings has been rudely snatched away, adding further misery to an attack already minus Ravindra Jadeja, down with a knee injury.
I am gutted that I won’t be a part of the T20 World Cup this time, but thankful for the wishes, care and support I’ve received from my loved ones. As I recover, I’ll be cheering on the team through their campaign in Australia 🇮🇳 pic.twitter.com/XjHJrilW0d
— Jasprit Bumrah (@Jaspritbumrah93) October 4, 2022
Among the bowlers in the squad now – Bumrah’s replacement is yet to be named – there are plenty who are adept at exploiting the new ball. Foremost among them is Bhuvneshwar Kumar, as wonderful an exponent of swing as any, but who has come a cropper in recent games while trying to close out an innings. Hardik Pandya is equally at home with the new ball as are Mohammed Shami and Deepak Chahar, one of whom should replace Bumrah, all other things being equal. Spinners Axar Patel and R Ashwin are excellent Powerplay bowlers though they can’t be relied upon to do the job at the backend. That leaves the young Arshdeep Singh and Harshal Patel as the last-over specialists.
Harshal has wended his way into the Indian team on the back of his slower deliveries, but it appears as if batsmen have worked him out and are prepared for his variations. He hasn’t yet found a counter, and that’s a massive setback considering he would have been pencilled in for two of the last five overs. Arshdeep has been the exception by and large, with his pinpoint yorkers and a surprise bouncer, but he will need support if India aren’t to continue to concede 200 every second innings.
India will play South Africa in Perth in their third league tie, and the Proteas have a faster, taller pace attack with which to come at them. Despite the series loss, South Africa will have taken heart from two rollicking batting efforts that have seriously undermined India’s status as one of the more fancied times. Rahul Dravid and bowling coach Paras Mhambrey have two and a half weeks to knock this attack into shape, otherwise for all their batting might, another early elimination isn’t that far-fetched.
Picture perfect 📸
— BCCI (@BCCI) October 5, 2022