Given that every walking soul in India is a knowledgeable selector, there has been a lot of chatter about the current T20 internationals’ set up. While those in power made crucial decisions keeping in mind the 2020 T20 World Cup in Australia (and probably the 2021 in India as well), many on the outside didn't agree.
Of course, it is the powerful whose head is on the chopping block, as ever. Questions were indeed asked when India had an unconvincing win in West Indies, and then South Africa levelled the rain-affected series 1-1. When Bangladesh pulled ahead in Delhi and took a 1-0 lead then, there was quite a bit of worry to go around.
In that light, this three-match T20I series will go down as one to remember, both for Bangladesh and India. For both sides, it heralds the onset of a new generation of cricketers. If you thought that resting Virat Kohli was a big miss for India, it was balanced by all the drama played out with and around Shakib Al Hasan. With both big names absent, to say there was a need for youngsters of both sides to stand up and be counted would be an understatement.
For Bangladesh, Mohammad Naim and Afif Hossain look set for a long future, while Mahmudullah’s captaincy was reassuring. But the Tigers have only just begun, both in terms of rebuilding as well as preparing for the World Cup next year. India are a couple of steps ahead at least, more in terms of experimental preparation than anything else. And, to add, it is never easy to shrug off their dependency on their senior players (read batsmen).
Batting first after losing the toss, with both Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan gone at 35/2, India looked to be caught in the same quicksand. It has been a veritable weakness for this Indian batting line-up – they can chase any score, but when it comes to setting a target, there is an inevitable struggle. It is the single biggest challenge they face, particularly considering the bigger grounds in Australia.
At that crucial juncture, the coming together KL Rahul and Shreyas Iyer for a massive partnership was the first right step in getting this mix right. No Kohli, Sharma and Dhawan gone, and staring down the barrel, Rahul and Iyer played fearless cricket. It is what they are best known for — attractive strokeplay — and they relied on it without doubting themselves.
Let’s talk about Rahul first. There is an oddity about his spot at the moment – the team management doesn’t know what to do with Dhawan, whose strike-rate is falling with every T20 outing. Going by statistics alone, Rahul has the best strike-rate in T20 cricket among Indian top-order batsmen, and that includes the Sharma-Kohli duo. Further, he may struggle in the longer formats of the game but Rahul has managed to modulate his game well as per white-ball requirements. This half-century, and his recent form in Vijay Hazare Trophy is a reminder that the team management needs to take a call about Rahul’s permanent inclusion into the T20 side.
Iyer, meanwhile, is the missing cog in India’s middle-order. In the short run since the 2019 World Cup, he has given indications that perhaps the selectors missed a trick when not putting him up for trial at the number four spot. Through consistent scoring, he has found himself in India’s ODI and T20 plans in the space of three months, even overtaking Rishabh Pant in the batting line-up. He is now the set number four, at least in the short term for both ODIs and T20s, and that is saying a lot considering how this spot has troubled Indian cricket for long.
The Rahul-Iyer pair together ticked off one of the major concerns for Indian batting in their 59-run partnership. The Jamtha ground is a big one, and with 15 boundary hits (five of them sixes), they were able to accelerate from a position of rebuild, thanks to intelligent cricket. Rahul picked up boundaries with intelligent manoeuvring, while Iyer brought out the big guns. Later, Manish Pandey gave them the necessary finish — the importance of his 22 runs in a 30-run victory must be noted. For once they showed that the Indian middle order was capable of scoring runs without the senior pros.
That it was a night for youngsters was confirmed when Naim smashed his first T20I half-century. From 12/2 to 110/3 with Mithun, he provided the same relief to Bangladesh as Rahul-Iyer did. This is where another pair of youngsters made all the difference for India. Enter Deepak Chahar and Shivam Dube.
Rohit Sharma’s face had fallen flat when India didn’t win the toss — dew was going to be an issue, he knew it. And with Naim-Mithun pair in cruise mode, the worst Indian fears were realised as Washington Sundar and Yuzvendra Chahal didn’t have any impact whatsoever. But then, Chahar-Dube scripted a comeback for the ages, as Sharma so aptly described.
Whether a pacer or spinner, it is never easy to bowl with a wet ball. Both Chahar and Dube used clever variations at that stage. Change in pace, change in length, short delivery followed by a fuller one, nothing short of length for batsmen to pick off the backfoot, yorkers mixed up – this was intelligent fast bowling at its best. It was almost as if India had dialled up Bhuvneshwar Kumar-Jasprit Bumrah to come back and do the job for them.
And that last sentence signifies this old, wet ball Chahar-Dube pairing. Both are predominantly IPL products — at least their bag of tricks in a tight T20 situation justifies the same. Thing is, neither of them is assured a starting place when Bhuvi, Bumrah or even Hardik Pandya return.
This though is the underlying point. Dube’s coming as a clever fall-back option is like Vijay Shankar’s arrival on the scene as a backup to Pandya. He needs more time, and this burst will warrant that playing time on the international stage. Chahar, well, has answered another long-standing question for this Indian team management. In this trial-and-error method to find a third reliable pace option to Bhuvi-Bumrah, Chahar may have just booked his ticket to Australia, already.
Yes, it may be early, and let’s not get carried away. But in a 12-month journey that remains to the next T20 World Cup, Sunday night in Nagpur was a crucial marker. When the seniors were missing or had a bad day, the youngsters put their hands up and etched out a win for India’s T20 experimentation.
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