A small tweak in the batting order could bring players to familiar batting positions and enhance India's chances of winning the final T20I against South Africa
29 matches and 801 runs
31 matches and 822 runs
These are Rohit Sharma's records in T20I and IPL respectively since the start of 2016. There is hardly anything to separate the two in terms of batting average, strike rate or even runs but what stands out is the fact that the Hitman represented Mumbai Indians 31 times across four months of cricket but played just 29 matches spread across 26 months of international T20 cricket.
27 matches and 967 runs
26 matches and 1281 runs
These are the corresponding numbers for Virat Kohli since 2016, and while the Indian captain has played one match more in T20I than the IPL, the fact remains that he played 26 IPL matches in just over four months whereas the 27 T20I matches were scattered over more than two years.
One common pattern you gather from the above numbers is that players get more time to accustom themselves to their roles in the IPL than in T20Is because of the simple fact that they spend more time continuously in one role during the IPL than internationally, where more than 10 T20 matches a year is still a rarity.
Most international teams follow their ODI template in T20Is and employ players in roles they are familiar with in the 50-over format just because the sample size of T20 games is too less to arrive at a judgement regarding the correct way to use a player. It is so much easier to just ask a batsman to play in his ODI batting position than finding out which position suits him better during bilateral games that rarely go beyond two-three games.
It is probably time the cricketing fraternity identified T20s as a separate entity. ODI and T20 cricket are traversing in completely different directions and it no longer makes sense to even have the same pool of players. Just the way the game of rugby was split into a union and league in 1895, ODIs and T20Is are in danger of splitting up but the mindset of teams hasn't quite changed.
A low sample size of T20I games to judge by shouldn't prompt teams to adopt a conservative approach and stick to their ODI game plan in the shortest format of the game. A case in point would be that of Australia, whose remarkable turnaround in the recent Trans-Tasman T20I Tri-Series came with a completely new look squad picked on the basis of performances in the Big Bash League.
While the primary aim of these T20 leagues and franchises around the globe is to nurture young talent, it could also serve as an ideator for international teams to follow in the shortest format of the game.
With teams having few matches to judge players in specific roles, they could just borrow ideas from these T20 leagues. That isn't a familiar pattern in T20Is yet but is one which could yield a good success rate.
Taking a glance at the scorecards of the first two T20Is between South Africa and India, the first thing that strikes you is the failure of Rohit and Kohli. These two are pillars of consistency for India in limited-overs cricket and are expected to rack up runs at will, especially with South Africa missing quite a few senior bowlers.
Rohit’s technique has been exposed by the hosts this series and apart from a single hundred on a flat Port Elizabeth surface in the ODIs, the Mumbaikar has done little of note. Kohli, on the other hand, made runs for fun in the ODIs but a switch to No 4 in the batting line-up in T20Is hasn't gone down well.
For somebody like Kohli to fail twice in a row is a rarity. In ODIs, his numbers since the 2015 World Cup reveal that he gets a 50+ score every 1.92 innings while the chances of him getting a score between 0-25 rest at 2.94. These are his ODI numbers but his T20 record isn't a far cry either. His stupendous consistency and penchant for piling up runs is familiar to one and all. This makes Kohli’s twin failures at No 4 even more profound.
The mantra most advocated in T20 cricket is to give your best batsman the most number of overs. This theory should ideally prompt India to open with Kohli. Strange? Not so much given that he has donned the role quite successfully at Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL.
But pushing Kohli up the order would mean one of Shikhar Dhawan or Rohit has to shift down. This is again a no-brainer if you consider the terrific success of Rohit at No 4 for Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League.
India wanted to give Suresh Raina the license to express himself by pushing him up to No 3 on his comeback - a reason why Kohli had to shift one place down in the batting line-up - and this is completely warranted for most of Raina’s success in the IPL has come from that position.
With Rohit struggling to adapt to the new ball on responsive South African wickets, India might want to consider switching the batting positions of Kohli and Rohit. This way every single player in the top four (Dhawan and Kohli opening, Raina at No 3 and Rohit at No 4) would bat in positions they are used to playing at in the IPL.
Even if the Raina experiment fails, India have Shreyas Iyer and Manish Pandey in the team, both of whom have played at No 3 (for Delhi Daredevils and Kolkata Knight Riders respectively) and found success.
India head into the series decider at Cape Town on Saturday and need to bring their A game to the table, particularly with South Africa regaining their mojo with a confidence-boosting win. A small tweak in the batting order could bring players to familiar batting positions and enhance India's chances of returning home with both limited-overs series’ in their kitty. Will they do it, though?
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