India vs England: Virat Kohli and Co need to rethink squad selection to match visitors' firepower

As the first T20 in Kanpur wound down, even Ravi Shastri, the perennial cheerleader for the home side in the commentary box, had to acknowledge the shellacking England had dealt India.

“Achieving the target with 11 balls to spare, that's a lot in this format,” said Shastri. The difference between the two sides was that obvious.

England possessed hitting depth down to their number 10 – even though they didn't need to summon it in this particular game – while India's, if we are being generous, ended at seven.

England's Ben Stokes(C) celebrates with teammates at the fall of Virat Kohli's wicket at the Eden Gardens. AFP

England's Ben Stokes celebrates with teammates at the fall of Virat Kohli's wicket. AFP

In T20s, after a perfunctory few balls of “getting the eye in”, the imperative is for the batsmen to look for boundaries. In traditional cricket, the attacking shot is an extension of the defence, where as in T20, the batsmen ought to think of hitting a boundary first and in not getting the opportunity to do so, look for a single.

With only 120 deliveries to face and 10 wickets to burn, the onus is on the hitters to maximize the score while occasionally risking the side getting bowled out.

For India at Green Park, there were only two batsmen that even approached the need of T20 hitting – Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina. After getting set, Kohli tried to thrash every delivery pitched on length outside off but failed to connect and perished trying to get under a flat delivery sent down by Moeen Ali.

Raina played the quintessential T20 innings, and easily had the best strike rate of all the Indians, whacking 34 in 23 balls, and launching the lone six of the innings.

MS Dhoni topscored for India with 36 runs (27 balls) but it included just three hits to the boundary, two of which occurred in the 20th over. In the last six overs of the innings, aka everything-must-go phase of a T20 innings, India managed just three hits to the boundary.

It could be argued that the Indian tail was too long, Dhoni could not afford to get out early lest the side be bowled out. On the face of it, it looks like a sound argument but he needed to take the risk.

Kohli surmised at the end of the match that his side was about 35 runs short. Given that India were not going to mount much of a challenge to England's hitting with a middling score on a good pitch under lights, Dhoni needed to go for the boundaries. The same applies to other batsmen as well, not just in this innings, but in every T20 innings.

Pervez Rasool, whose domestic T20 strike rate is less than 100, on his T20I debut, and Jasprit Bumrah, who will probably feature as the last man in even his Dream XI, were slotted at eight and nine. Two other specialist bowlers at ten and eleven meant that India could not take advantage of the final six overs to boost the total.

If specialist bowlers with only a quota of 4 overs are going to cost a side so much in terms of runs to be scored, it is better to have bowlers in the side who may not be specialists but carry a big stick and can wallop a few. India only needed to look as far as the England dug out for inspiration.

As such, the Indian squad assembled for this T20I series is not going to be able to match England's firepower. Sure, India are missing Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan through injuries, and Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have been rested, but it still doesn't explain the choices made or the selection logic behind assembling this squad.

The table below is the record (of the best 20* hitters) in the last three seasons of the IPL (2014-16) of batsmen that generally batted in the top eight (minimum qualification: 100 balls faced).

The columns indicate the percentage of runs scored by the batsman in boundaries (fours and sixes), overall strike rate across the three seasons and the frequency of boundary hitting (balls faced per four or six).

IPL best hitters 2014-16*. Data courtesy: Kartikeya Date @cricketingview

IPL best hitters 2014-16*. Data courtesy: Kartikeya Date @cricketingview

From the playing XI at Kanpur, Kohli, KL Rahul, Raina, Hardik Pandya and Yuvraj Singh feature in the list, but only Rahul's name is among the very best IPL hitters.

Mandeep Singh ought to have been in the XI but was overlooked. In the absence of Rohit, Rishabh Pant could have opened the innings allowing Kohli to be at his usual number three in T20Is.

The likes of Krunal Pandya, Sarfaraz Khan, Kedhar Jadhav, Yusuf Pathan and Suryakumar Yadav needed to be in the squad, with all of them bowling spin to various levels of proficiency.

A couple of them occupying slots between six and eight could be the boundary hitting power that India seem to be sorely lacking to pose any threat to England. As much as Yuvraj may have been an inspired choice in the ODIs, Pathan – younger than Yuvraj – with his significantly better strike rate and boundary hitting frequency, is the better option.

Even more baffling is the non-selection of Jadhav, especially with the view that Kohli considers him the “find of the season” and that they have “backed him the last year and a half”.

If India really need both Nehra and Bumrah as specialist bowlers, they ought to share the remaining 12 overs between the likes of the Pandya brothers, Raina and any of Pathan, Jadhav and Yadav. In the end, in a T20, it is the sustained boundary hitting power that matters. Just ask the West Indies.

As India have constrained themselves with their squad selection, the inclusions of Mandeep Singh (for Pandey) and Rishabh Pant (to open) in the playing XI for the second T20I at Nagpur is now a necessity. But even that may not be enough to catch up to the English firepower but it at least will show us that India are thinking clearly about their approach to T20s.

* Virender Sehwag appears third in the list but since he has retired from international cricket and is not for selection, his name has been removed from the list.


Published Date: Jan 27, 2017 12:22 pm | Updated Date: Jan 27, 2017 12:22 pm

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