It is a breathless age. No time to halt, ponder, mourn, celebrate, or repair. Continue. The T20 World Cup seems distant. Like the Uber professionals they are, England have grabbed their tools and are out to amuse again. At the time of writing, Jos Buttler, the triumphant captain, is out in the middle, aiming to rally England from 66 for 4 against Australia. India and New Zealand, two sides that may have been in the final, will play a bilateral series.
It’s fine. Why should sport be different from life? You lose, redemption is near.
True? Ask players. Or ask fanatics. Even in this age of hyper-transience, sporting memories are developed around huge events, and World Cups matter. If anything, that makes heartbreaks come faster, and nowhere is that more palpable than in India, where over a billion hearts beat in anticipation when a World Cup comes around.
It might be argued that a team’s quality shouldn’t be assessed by World Cup performances alone, especially in T20, where luck and imponderables play bigger roles. After a week, the reality about India’s campaign is clear: they were a flawed squad with a series of bad performances who required some luck to reach the semi-finals.
A few crazy strokes and luck won the match versus Pakistan. Who knows how far Litton Das may have gone if the game versus Bangladesh hadn’t been rained out? All their scores over 170 came against inferior bowling attacks.
JaspritBumrah and Ravindra Jadeja’s absence forced India to rejig their game plan, and their choice of spinners came down to batting ability, benching the aggressive option. Dinesh Karthik became their only right-handed batsman. Several members of that team may have played their last T20s for India, pointing to a team put together for the competition and to work around compulsions. No matter the tournament’s conclusion, starting over was unavoidable.
This bilateral assignment in New Zealand is more than duty. It’s a chance to escape. India’s outmoded T20 style has been noted many times. Since failing to reach the semi-finals in 2021, Rahul Dravid and Rohit Sharma have emphasised aggressive batting beginnings.
Rohit’s top order is swinging harder. Virat Kohli slammed his first few balls and tried to hit spinners over the top. This technique boosted India’s Powerplay scoring rate between World Cups, propelling them to the top of the rankings. This was their World Cup game.
Few had predicted early-tournament conditions. Along with bounce came swing and seam, and organizers kept the boundary ropes at the fields’ edge. Par scores dropped by 20 runs, and Powerplays became as much about wicket-saving as run-scoring. It allowed the Indian top order to return to familiar territory and Kohli to return to his organic template: build, rotate strike, and conclude with a turbo finish.
India often fell behind in Powerplays, but Suryakumar Yadav’s strokeplay made up for it. India finished 10th in Powerplay scoring (95.85), above Netherlands and Zimbabwe. India’s Powerplay ruined them against England in Adelaide. England’s 170 without loss seemed bad against the Indian bowlers, but India crawled to 62 in the first ten overs.
India aggressively addressed the problem in the months before the World Cup. But it’s unclear if batters who don’t like the style can regularly execute it. Rohit led by example, sacrificing his wicket with awkward strokes; it was against his grain. KL Rahul has flashed potential but lacked consistency and big-match performances. Kohli showed what he’s still capable of, but should India keep him at No. 3 in all situations?
Indian cricket faces other questions. Why has India not developed more T20 cricketers despite 15 years of IPL? Why did a country with so many players go back to Dinesh Karthik despite his 18-year stop-start career? Why can’t top-order batters bowl? Or bat-swinging fast bowlers? Why does the bowling assault lack a gun bowler?
What is available has made India’s T20 team weak. Is it because top players have settled with their franchises? There are many middle-order batters and spinners. Finding a death-overs specialist beyond Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar was difficult.
Suryakumar’s rubbery wrists and quick hands have not made him a lethal batter against all bowlers. He has made himself so. He trains his impulses to hit fours and sixes. Watch him set up a ball, and you will see that a boundary is his first option. He settles for less if the boundary option is not possible. He’s India’s first T20 expert. He is exemplary.
T20 has grown faster than most sports. The youngest version of cricket has matured. The IPL has helped cricket rule popular imagination and cash registers. India’s physical and mental weaknesses in T20 cricket are comical and galling. Their only T20 World Cup win was before the IPL.
No country is more prepared to develop a T20 pool. India’s T20 strategy needs a reboot, not a refresh. India’s first T20 revolution began with a daring step: Rahul Dravid convincing his peers T20 was not for them.