India prioritise momentum over long-term plans in T20 rebuild

The Rohit Sharma-Rahul Dravid era in Indian cricket got off to a flying start with the team securing the series against New Zealand in comprehensive fashion on Friday (November 19). While the results were not surprising, it is very evident that the men in charge of the dressing room have opted for a cautious approach and prioritised wins under the belt over experimentation and long-term planning.

Venkatesh Iyer has had a dream two-month period where he not only announced himself to the world with some scintillating performances in the IPL but has also forced his way into the Indian team. Not many can lay claim to such a speedy rise but there is a reason why the selectors took little time to elevate him to the national fold.

Hardik Pandya not bowling in the lead up to the T20 World Cup was a major concern for the team management. There were question marks over his presence in the XI as a result but the Indian skipper Virat Kohli acknowledged that Hardik’s role as a finisher cannot be replaced overnight. Eventually, Kohli was helpless and couldn’t call upon his sixth bowling option against Pakistan in the opening game when Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan were cruising. Even though he did bowl in the next two games, it was very evident that India could not bank on just Hardik alone going forward for such a crucial role.

Investing in Venkatesh made complete sense from that perspective with the 26-year-old making good use of his limited opportunities with the ball for Kolkata Knight Riders as a seamer. Even though Rohit and Dravid made the right call of slotting him in at number 6 – the spot where Hardik bats – Venkatesh hasn’t bowled even a single over in these two games. The call did seem bizarre if they were to look at the allrounder from Madhya Pradesh as a backup to Hardik with 12 months to go for the next World Cup in Australia. Rohit didn’t bring on Venkatesh during phases where New Zealand had to rebuild nor when they went all guns blazing like they did on Friday in the first half of their innings. Instead, the management were clear in their thinking and wanted to back their five frontline bowlers to bowl their quota irrespective of their economy rate on the night.

Ishan Kishan continuing to warm the benches is another example. The swashbuckling player was in the 15 for the World Cup and was handed just one opportunity in the tournament but has found himself on the sidelines even in the ongoing series with Shreyas Iyer preferred over him. Despite Shreyas’s limitations in the format at number 5, India have opted for a safer approach by slotting him into their batting order despite very well knowing that he might not be a first-choice player in the 15 when Kohli returns. Ishan, a more extravagant option compared to Shreyas, has not been chosen with India having newcomer Venkatesh and spin bowling allrounder Axar Patel at 6 and 7 slotted in alongside mercurial players Suryakumar Yadav and Rishabh Pant. Shreyas, it would seem, is the safer anchor amidst a series of flashy players.

Likewise, India’s luck with the tosses may have finally changed, but they haven’t opted to bat first and challenge themselves in either of the games. Batting first in the UAE in both their crunch encounters against Pakistan and New Zealand definitely had a say in the result with the dew making things easier for the chasing side. In an ideal world, that should have put more emphasis on getting used to setting totals – something that they might be forced to do again on the big stage. Instead, they opted to bowl first and follow the regular template. Even former India opener Gautam Gambhir had backed the team to do exactly that stating that winning the game should take precedence over anything else.

These decisions aren’t entirely surprising though. Right from the beginning, India have been focussed on getting back to winning ways despite resting some star names. KL Rahul could have easily been added to the list of players getting a break. The 29-year-old has been playing non stop ever since he featured in the Test series in England. Since he was back amongst the runs in Test cricket at the top of the order, it made sense to stick with him for the New Zealand series as well considering that will act as a buildup to a sterner test in South Africa. But instead of giving him a mini break at least in the ongoing series, the selectors wanted the new T20I vice-captain to be out there during the start of a new era.

These moves clearly convey what the top-most priority was heading into this series. Considering India made an early exit in the T20 World Cup despite being touted as the favourites for the trophy, a few wins immediately can always bring back the feel-good factor. With new coaching staff and a new captain in charge, it only made sense for them to start off on a good note as well. Losing to New Zealand again – a side that has constantly been a thorn in their flesh over the last two years – would have ruffled some feathers. Instead, India will now carry some momentum into South Africa where they will be playing seven white-ball games.

“It is important that the guys get time in the middle. It is early to think about changes in the next game. Whatever suits team India, we’ll do that. We need to make sure we look after the guys who are playing now. They haven’t played a lot either. For the guys who haven’t played, their time will come, there are a lot of T20s,” Rohit said after the series-clinching win. Perhaps, the likes of Ishan and Ruturaj Gaikwad will have to wait longer if the next target is to complete a 3-0 whitewash.

Source: https://www.cricbuzz.com/cricket-news/119910/india-prioritise-momentum-over-long-term-plans-in-t20-rebuild

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