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Cricket: Taming of the Shrew

Prior to the start of the T20 World Cup, I’d rightly predicted an exit for the Indian team during the knockout stages. I also sensed that getting there would largely be possible due to them being slotted into an easier pool, filled with “lesser” minnows. Despite all their talent, I knew that the Indian team had serious chinks in India’s armor – cracks bandaged over by overzealous pride and show of power. It’s in the knockout stages that these weaknesses are most exploited, as they were in the last ODI World Cup, when selectors made the blunder of choosing an inexperienced middle order, led by a newbie “3D” player named Vijay Shankar, who has all but disappeared after the world cup. This time around too, there were glaring selection issues, both in bowling and batting departments, but more so in the bowling. So let’s start with that:

The Batting: the semifinal battle was almost lost before it started during that first powerplay, with our lackluster opening pair. And I could see this as the differentiating point during the knockouts from miles away. Rohit Sharma is not a natural T20 player, and this has become more and more clear over the last year. His comfort zone is largely centered around the longer formats, especially ODIs. He often takes at least a dozen balls to find his rhythm, which can prove costly during the powerplay. And KL Rahul is a guy who does very well in familiar conditions like the IPL, but rarely performs against great bowling sides or under pressure. We also lacked a left-handed opener, which has become key to winning T20s. Maybe opening with Pant, or even selecting Shikar Dhawan would have made a difference. Batting depth also was missing, too, which may have forced Kohli to play a more defensive anchor role than throwing his bat around. We had the likes of Ashwin and Axar Patel coming in at #6, whereas England had batting all the way to #10, allowing their openers to throw their bats around.

The lack of all-rounders: the key to being a top T20 side may be in choosing a team of all-rounders— who can throw their bat around a bit, but also bowl a bit. This is the mantra England has been following for a while now, with the likes of Moin Ali, Livingstone, Curran, Woakes and so on. We don’t need technical specialists in T20s, we need someone who can contribute across the board.

The cost of pride: T20s need lightweight players, not big heads. It’s a very brief format that can’t sustain the weight of greatness. There’s no time here to languish on past greatness. And India is a team of greats, greatness earned in the longer formats of ODIs and Tests. The issue with genius is it holds you back from playing freely, playing without expectations, from throwing caution to the wind— as Alex Hales did in his breathtaking batting effort. You don’t expect a KL Rahul or a Rohit Sharma succeeding at that given the burden of their expectations— not in alien conditions at least.

The last point brings us a bigger point: will India ever win a T20 world cup again? India hasn’t won a T20 World Cup in the last fifteen years. Sure, they will always be one of the better sides, given the amount of money poured into finding talent in the IPL and the huge talent base of India. But given their habit of glorifying players, leading to bloated heads, I wonder if India will ever be able to cross the last hurdles, where the need of the hour is a light head that’s free from the world, and deaf to the din of expectations.

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