The biggest takeaway from the three-match T20 series against Sri Lanka was undoubtedly skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s inspiring leadership.
For some time now, Dhoni’s captaincy has been vexing. The loss to Bangladesh and South Africa were particularly galling but were offset by the mixed results from the limited overs matches against Australia.
It was widely accepted that the Indian team, with its mix of young talent and experienced hands, needed a strong, calm and cool leader to mould it into a challenging unit and that man was undoubtedly Dhoni.
But until he put his inner demons on the back burner, there was a question mark over his leadership.
During the latter half of the Australian tour and the series against Sri Lanka, Dhoni seemed to have regained his mojo.
He looked his cool self even as he displayed all the cricketing acumen that had contributed to making him one of India’s greatest captains.
The horrendous loss in the opening T20 International at Pune was a reminder of Indian batsmen’s inability to perform on juicy pitches.
However, the loss served to jolt the team into playing to its potential in the next two matches where conditions were decidedly more to their liking.
Dhoni’s ploy of taking pace away from the Sri Lankan top order batsmen was a masterstroke. He also had a lovely spin bowler in Ravi Ashwin to implement the theory.
This was classic Dhoni, throwing down a challenge that the opponents could not resist taking up and perishing in the process.
Dhoni’s extraordinary ability to present a deadpan expression and not let the tension show in tough situations is worth its weight in gold in a leader, especially when directing his young bowlers and fielders in highly volatile situations.
It is this calm leadership that will be called upon again and again in the ICC World T20 where rampaging batsmen, excitable crowds and all sorts of pressure will come to bear on the team.
Dhoni’s return to his best as captain augurs very well for India and is hence the best take away from the recent series against Sri Lanka. Now if only he could get his batting mojo back too!
Shikhar Dhawan & Ravichandran Ashwin: Rohit Sharma was always expected to be one of the top batsmen for India in T20 cricket. The task was to identify a worthwhile partner. Nobody doubted Shikhar Dhawan’s ability for the job — a left-handed batsman with an aggressive attitude to boot.
Except that for some reason or the other he could not find success in T20 cricket.
His first 50 in T20I came in the second match at Ranchi. He followed it with unbeaten 46 in the last match to show that his failures in this format of the game were just an aberration.
Similarly, Ashwin, such an important part of the Indian bowling attack at home, looked ineffective on Australian pitches.
In his last ODI at Brisbane he was tonked for 60 runs. Ashwin, though, is a different kettle of fish in the sub-continent.
He has the ability to get the ball to drift, loop and spin either way on Indian pitches. The extra rip he gives on the new ball makes it float away from the right hander.
He is a difficult bowler to put away in home conditions and would certainly have got his confidence back after bowling some superb spells against Sri Lanka’s top order batsmen.
Hardik Pandya & Jasprit Bumrah: Two great finds. Bumrah has all the making of being India’s best-ever bowler in the death overs.
The slower and the sharper yorkers that he sends down from an angle wide of the crease are both potent weapons.
He will be a handful at the death and may even turn some matches around at that stage.
Pandya has all the makings of a top notch fielder. His ability to hit the ball with refreshing freedom will be a huge asset in a batting line-up consisting of other power-hitters like Rohit, Dhawan and Virat Kohli.
He could be the pinch-hitter when finishers like Suresh Raina and Dhoni keep one end going.
Pandya could also be called upon to send down a couple of overs of medium-pace.
Both Bumrah and Pandya, through the series, showed that they belonged at this level of the game and came away with enhanced reputations.
Ashish Nehra: The recall of the three veterans for one of the most demanding forms of the game was surprising, to say the least. So what tidings has their inclusions brought forth?
Nehra, a veteran at 37, was never a good fielder. So to have expected him to do well in that aspect of the game would have been unrealistic.
But what he showed consistently in the past few matches was an ability to bowl well both at the start of the innings and at the death.
He was not as quick as he used to be. But his left-arm fast medium was backed by years of experience and it all fell into place for the duration of four overs in match after match. Nehra did better than expected in the series.
Yuvraj Singh: Yuvraj is another veteran ravaged by time. If he strikes form, he could be a great asset. He didn’t have too much of a chance to show his batting prowess of late but his fielding and bowling have been pretty decent. The demands of T20 cricket are such that there is no time to settle down and get the eye in while batting at No 5 or 6. You have to hit the ground running and this is where Yuvraj seems to be struggling. Hopefully it will all come together in time for the big tournament.
Harbhajan Singh: Why would any selector choose a 36-year-old bowler to warm the benches? That’s the big puzzle. The youngsters who are usually chosen get the chance to soak in the atmosphere and learn a thing or two. What could Harbhajan possibly learn by sitting on the bench? Unless his selection was merely to keep Ashwin on his toes! Indeed, mysterious are the ways of our selectors.