Before jumping onto anything with me turning into a harsh critic, one has to upvote the work did by the BCCI to conduct a marquee event like the Indian Premier League under difficult circumstances.
After all, wasn’t 2020 on its way to becoming a cricket deprived year? That the BCCI ensured cricket must happen given their penchant for great organizational skills, one’s got to call the IPL in 2020 a high point both off and on the field for fans.
2020 didn’t start well for India as they were hammered by the Australians in the first of the three- match ODI series in Mumbai, where the Aaron Finch-led side thrashed India by ten wickets. Not an ideal start to the year, but Virat Kohli’s boys were up for the challenge and came back to clinch the series 2-1.
India then travelled to one of the most difficult places to win a cricket match for a visiting side: New Zealand. This foreign assignment turned out to be a disaster. India blanked the Kiwis 5-nil in the shortest format of the game, but got whitewashed 3-0 and 2-0 in ODIs and Tests, respectively. India’s dream of playing the finals of the World Test Championship came to a halt there.
The next assignment was against South Africa, but then the pandemic took shape in a serious way. However, eight months later, India were back in action against Australia in their own den. Though, the team hardly played international cricket, there was one important takeaway which can also be easily considered as the biggest positive for Indian cricket going forward.
Emergence of a strong lower middle order in ODIs
Towards the mid and end of 2000s, India had one certain Sachin Tendulkar at the top of the order and Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh in their lower middle order. These three formed a formidable trio and helped India to win so many games along with the world cup triumph in 2011. Indian cricket team and its fans didn’t know what was about to come after these 3’s presence together in the Indian jersey.
Once the aforementioned trio fell apart, India struggled to find a strong core of lower middle order and it has cost them big moments in the last 6 years or so. The year 2020 has finally helped India to find an answer to it. The formidable trio of KL Rahul, Hardik Pandya, and Ravindra Jadeja at #5, #6, and #7 is going to help India to overcome several difficult situations (read India vs Australia Third ODI) in years to come in the ODI format.
The drastic improvement in Ravindra Jadeja’s hitting prowess against pacers has added a whole new dimension to this Indian batting order. The ability of KL Rahul and Hardik Pandya against all types of bowling goes without saying. India have two mega forces up top in Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli to go with the champion opener in Shikhar Dhawan.
Team India’s batting unit seems much settled now.
Though, Indian batting unit is settled, the absence of a left hand batsman in the middle overs to counter the wrist spinners is one area which the Indian think-tank needs to work on.
Though Ravindra Jadeja has worked on his pace power-hitting, his struggles to get going against leg spinners aren’t yet corrected. Take, for instance, the self-explanatory strike rate of 66 against wrist spinners.
Can he even be an option in the middle overs? This is one key area that Team India needs to work on.
How about backward thinking in the shortest format of the game?
The shortest format was the most relevant- as also stated by Team India’s captain given the WT20 is fast approaching in 2021- in a year where it wasn’t possible to play dollops of Cricket. India should ideally be the leaders of this format simply given they have an enormous talent pool, amply evident in the 2020 IPL.
As per results, India are a dominant side as they whitewashed New Zealand in the five T20I series earlier this year and won against Australia 2-1, the latter just a few weeks ago.
Though what perhaps qualifies to be called baffling is to think that India won the high profile series versus the Australians (in Australia) after assembling a random T20I playing XI.
India have the near-perfect recipe on how a T20 team should be but the reluctance to come out of comfort zone is something that won’t do any good to the Indian team in the longer run.
The game has evolved so much that fast starters and six-hitters are the need of the hour and Team India have all the aforementioned types of players in their ranks but the mindset to fall back to the players who have the approach of taking the game deep with wickets in hand is something that shows the old school (age old) mindset of Indians and they should really consider to come out of this approach.
There can be a counter argument that there is no need to change the team that is performing successfully but riding on individual’s brilliance and opposition’s blunders should also be considered in this case. What would the die-hard fan say on this one wonders?
Probably time that Team India reinstated Rishabh Pant and injected Suryakumar Yadav into the T20I setup as early as possible to become a well-rounded T20 side. Surely, Yadav’s hammering of Mumbai Indians’ opponents in 2020 qualifies to be the most under-appreciated gem of T20 cricket in India all year whilst it won’t hurt to see Pant, a fiery bat against many a opposition, to get a little light for his own weight, you’d reckon- right?
Though, make no mistake, there are other issues that demand urgent attention.
India are yet to find a batsman that can survive the moving ball.
Also, doesn’t make a pretty sight at all for such a powerful side to be perceived- for no fault of anyone watching or the pundit- as Champions at home, but vague, unsure mostly everywhere (yes, we did thrash the West Indies in West Indies in 2019).
So when can this issue, actually a long-lasting problem ever since the departure of the stalwarts in Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman, be overcome?
Gladly, not me but Team India has to find an answer. But what can’t be denied is that how long can and must Virat Kohli- a modern legend in both-home and away conditions- show the way?