India vs England: Virat Kohli and Co need to cultivate 'T20 specialists' to adapt to the ever-evolving format

Rahul Dravid, in an interview during last year’s IPL, called T20 a “complicated game” that is not “easy to decode”. This coming from a man who is widely regarded as one of the most astute readers of the game, tells you something about the nature of cricket’s fastest evolving format.

Experts are still trying to figure out cricket’s youngest and sleekest format. With franchise-based cricket leagues popping up around the world and huge corporate money coming in, the coaching staff is now accountable to produce results. Every possible strategy and every possible player from every nook and corner of the world is being looked at, with a specific role in mind for the team.

 India vs England: Virat Kohli and Co need to cultivate T20 specialists to adapt to the ever-evolving format

India's MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli. AP

Cricket’s start-up format thrives on outside-the-box strategies. While opening the bowling with a spinner might have initially looked like a ploy that would work well in the sub-continent, a quick look at the Big Bash League shows that the most successful new ball bowlers this year are spinners.

Teams are focussing on matchups instead of just going in with their most settled unit. In a Big Bash game this season, Melbourne Renegades sent in Sunil Narine to counter the threat of Michael Beer’s left arm spin with the new ball. New age managers like Trent Woodhill of Melbourne Stars is using data mining techniques for decision making, or as they call it in sporting parlance, he is “money-balling”. What was initially thought of as a mindless slog fest, dubbed as cricketainment instead of real cricket, is now a cricket nerd’s dream with the kind of possibilities it throws.

While T20 cricket is thriving at the domestic league level, international teams still seem too busy to figure out the format. With packed Test and ODI calendars and a handful of T20 games each year, it’s hard to blame them. Virat Kohli said before the beginning of the T20 series against England that his bowlers will improve at death bowling for the Champions Trophy, a clear indication of a mindset that takes upcoming ODI tournaments more seriously than an odd T20 international game.

Team India has generally failed to give the T20 format its due attention in the past few years. With individual performers capable of winning games on their own, we have a decent win/loss record but the numbers don’t tell much of a story in international T20s, as there aren’t enough matches to go by. After winning the inaugural World T20 ten years ago, with a team that dared to experiment more than others, we have hardly explored any new ideas or unearthed enough new players who can be termed as “T20 specialists”.

The two best teams during last year’s World T20 stood out for their “no holds barred” approach to the game. Filled with all-rounders, England and West Indies gave their batsmen the license to express themselves. None of their batsmen seem intent on settling in and getting a big score. They figured out that two quick-fire 30s are more valuable than a well compiled 60 in this format.

In India’s semi-final game against West Indies, we were gushing over Kohli and Dhoni running quick twos, till West Indies responded with an all-out attack approach that pretty much takes run-outs out of the equation. They swing hard and hope to connect roughly fifty percent of the time. If one batsman fails, the next one comes and repeats the same exercise. With heavy bats and small outfields, it is a reasonably high percentage strategy, one that often succeeds better in T20 games on good batting wickets than those quick twos.

This is not to say that filling your team with big hitting batsmen is the only way to come on top in this format. Last year’s IPL was won by the team that had the best bowling unit and were consistently able to restrict the opposition scoring. No matter what approach you take, it’s important to find your strengths and have a clear strategy. A game that gets over in a jiffy hardly gives you any chance to make a strategic mistake. If plan A fails, you may not have time to recover with a plan B.

Given the unique requirements of the format, various teams have toyed with the idea of having separate coaches for the T20 format. The idea has a lot of merits given that international Test coaches already have a lot on their plate and can’t be relied upon to invest enough effort into figuring out the rigours of T20.

File photo of Rishabh Pant. PTI

File photo of Rishabh Pant. PTI

It may be a good idea to even have a separate bench of selectors who just look at T20 games and assist the national coaching panel in identifying young talent. We need to ensure that performance in domestic T20 competitions should be given more weightage for selection at international T20 games.

Indian teams have traditionally been averse to change of personnel. We rely on the old guard until it is proven to be completely worthless. This new age team under young captain needs to start being proactive instead of reactive with its changes if it wants to be successful in all formats of the game.

It was agonising to watch Rishabh Pant sit out the first T20 game against England on 26 January. Here is a fearless lad, who has been setting the domestic scene on fire this year and should have been an automatic choice for the T20 team. An insight into his mind in a recent Firstpost interview showed his fresh, uncluttered, almost Sehwagesque approach to batting.

Perhaps Pant is the secret sauce that we need to add to this star-studded lineup to come good. Let’s hope Kohli applies his Royal Challengers Bangalore mantra of “Play Bold” at Nagpur and gives this exciting youngster a stage to express himself.

Updated Date: Jan 28, 2017 10:02:07 IST