Like the team’s countless passionate fans, the result should rankle India and its players. However, what one got from the captain was beating-around-the-bush platitudes.
After India’s 10-wicket shellacking against England in the T20 World Cup semifinal in Adelaide, last November, a reboot was rightly called for. For a country that hosts the most glamorous, cash-rich, and supposedly competitive T20 league, the IPL, India, it seemed, often played an archaic version of a format which demands enterprise and lampoons safety.
Under new skipper Hardik Pandya, it seemed India would shed those inhibitions and embrace adventure, even recklessness. However, Pandya, once a free flowing, attacking batter, himself has unfailingly erred on the side of caution once he assumed the mantle of captaincy. In the 12 innings that he has played post the T20 World Cup, he has scored 231 runs at a pedestrian strike-rate of 114.92. It’s what his idol, the great MS Dhoni did, especially in ODIs. But that is a format that allowed him time to take the game deep. T20 is an unforgiving impact-based beast.
Hardik has walked in at No.5 most of the time, but he has not been able to launch. His highest score has been 30 not out in those 12 innings. He scored 14 off 18 balls in the series-decider on Sunday, batting at No. 6 and even those numbers look barely presentable because he hit a six a ball before his dismissal.
India were 87-4 in 11 overs and Hardik had a set Suryakumar Yadav at the other end. His approach though threw SKY off. The same happened to a well-set Shubman Gill, in Tarouba, in the third ODI. But over there, Hardik had the time to tee off in the end.
India’s cautious T20 approach, once they lose early wickets, may stem from the fears that they essentially have four No. 11s following Axar Patel at No. 7. Kuldeep Yadav, Arshdeep Singh, Mukesh Kumar and Yuzvendra Chahal have no pretensions of being boundary hitters. One is tempted to ask who chose this combination? What stopped the think tank from going to players like Venkatesh Iyer, Washington Sundar, Shivam Dube?
Why was Rahul Tripathi, who batted with refreshing freedom at No. 3, against Sri Lanka, suddenly discarded? Iyer, who showed promise despite batting out of his comfort zone at No. 6, in the few chances he got, was strangely done away with. That he is also a useful seamer, makes his exclusion appear weirder.
India’s thinking has been muddled in the West Indies. An over-emphasis on matchups, something that coach Dravid reportedly swears by, has seen some strange decisions made. Axar Patel, despite having a good outing in the fourth T20I when he bowled in the first six overs, didn’t bowl till the 15th over, despite teams playing on a used wicket.
West Indies, though, didn’t waste any time and bowled Akeal Hossein with great results. They didn’t look at the fact that Yashasvi Jaiswal is a left-hander. India, it seemed, got spooked by the presence of big-hitting lefties Kyle Mayers and Nicholas Pooran. One should also ask when Mukesh Kumar is essentially picked for his ability to swing and seam the new ball, and provide powerplay scalps, what was he doing bowling the 10th over?
Leggie Yuzvendra Chahal, who has been outbowled by Kuldeep Yadav in the West Indies, and whose armour of self-confidence has seen a few holes punched in it, was bowled in the powerplay and the Windies blew him to smithereens.
India will return to these shores for the T20 World Cup in June next year. Captain Hardik may think there is enough time to figure out what is supposed to be done and losing is good, but a poor outing there, and one could just see a third captain being out of his job, after a global T20 event. Just ask Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma.