Mumbai: India’s white-ball winter campaign concluded strongly as Sri Lanka was trounced 3-0 in the T20 series that ended in Dharamsala. With this clean sweep, India has reached the top of record books for the most consecutive T20 victories which are now 12 and counting. The recent wins over West Indies and Sri Lanka have also laid a smooth platform for India to now confidently look at the bigger picture – the T20 World Cup in Australia in October later this year. In the process, Rohit Sharma ticked all the boxes as the new captain and has made a commanding transition into the leadership role.
Before the West Indies arrived on Indian shores in early February, the Men in Blue had been soundly beaten in South Africa under KL Rahul’s captaincy while Rohit Sharma was injured. It meant that Rohit had to hit the ground running with the added pressure of building a new team for not only the T20 World Cup later this year but also keeping an eye on the 2023 ODI World Cup scheduled in India. While the media focused on his equation with ex-captain Virat Kohli, Rohit went about his job as if he had always been at the helm. His shrewd tactics were always known in IPL but now were on full display as he led excellently all through the month ultimately keeping India’s losses to zero during their entire campaign against both Windies and Lanka.
Much of the credit should also be given to the new head coach Rahul Dravid. Both Rohit and Dravid backed Suryakumar Yadav and Shreyas Iyer to solve India’s long-standing middle-order conundrum. On their part, the talented duo stepped up and showed maturity to ensure victories from tricky situations. Surya was declared the Man of the Series in the T20s against West Indies and Shreyas won the Man of the Series against Sri Lanka in the same format.
But it wasn’t just the impressive batsmanship by them that became the talk of the town, it was the strike rate at which they played and kept the momentum steady throughout their stay on crease which made everyone sit up and take notice. This has been India’s Achilles Heel for the last few years- a fragile middle order and slow run-rate in the middle overs. With Surya and Shreyas succeeding in their roles, it has given a happy headache to the team management to pick their best eleven once Hardik Pandya and K L Rahul come back from their injuries.
The overall aggressive approach by Surya-Shreyas looked like a well-thought-out team plan. Previously India had been playing a rather traditional style of T20 game where the start was slow and steady and later the tempo was raised at the climax of the innings. This strategy has cost India many crucial games and was instrumental in their not winning any T20 World Cup since 2007. But after Rohit took over, it was a clear approach by all batsmen, including mainstays like Virat and Rohit himself, to bat aggressively right from the word go. The team may have lost quick wickets in the process but the strategy has paid dividends as the opposition has been taken by surprise. Moreover, the blessing in disguise in the entire situation has been the added responsibility and maturity that the middle order has shown. Earlier, the bulk of run-making was done by the top order and the middle order hardly got tested. The lack of preparation meant that in crucial games, the batting often capitulated, frustrating the loyal fans.
There is also the new dasher that India has found in the lower middle order in the form of Venkatesh Iyer. He has been a very important cog in the Indian juggernaut as he can bowl a few crucial overs too. Along with him, Prasidh Krishna with his pace was a welcome addition to the team. Although Krishna wasn’t selected for the Sri Lankan T20 matches, he was adjudged the Man of the Series in the ODIs against the Windies picking up 9 wickets.
Despite the massive positives in recent matches, there are still some chinks in the armor that need to be ironed out quickly. India’s catching has been abysmal, to say the least, with many dollies being dropped. India’s death bowling also remains a worry as many new bowlers fail to execute their plans. Even in the last T20 game against Sri Lanka, India had choked runs for most of the Lankan innings but the last 4 overs saw them leaking 56 runs – a similar story had unfolded in the previous game where 72 runs were looted in the final 4.
Such mistakes can cost India dearly playing against top sides like Australia and England. This is an area that is controllable among the many variables in the game and Rahul Dravid would be keen to ensure that such mishaps are rare rather than usual occurrences as Team India heads towards a World Cup that is critical to redeem its stature in the T20 format.