Will 2022 be another rich and rewarding year for Team India?
It’s hardly believable that in the 12 months of 2021, India’s men have only played six One-Day Internationals and 16 Twenty20 Internationals, including five matches at the T20 World Cup. What makes it even more astonishing is that a second team led by Shikhar Dhawan traveled to Sri Lanka in July for three ODIs and as many T20Is, even though Virat Kohli’s men were engaged in a series of roaring tests in England. Clearly, over the past year the focus has been on trial cricket; India has played 14 long format matches, including a 15th postponed to 2022 following the fear of Covid which forced the postponement of the Final Test in Manchester in September.
This year, however, the focus will once again be on white ball cricket. Including the current series in South Africa, India will play a maximum of seven Events, against 15 bilateral ODIs and 22 T20Is. There is also the small affair of the Asian Cup, which should be played in the 20-over format and which will lead to the T20 World Cup, in Australia in October-November. This year it will be more Captain Rohit Sharma of Limited Limits than Test Skipper Kohli.
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Some might argue that Rohit’s passage as skipper of the White Ball had the worst start, Mumbaikar ruled out ODIs in South Africa later this month with a hamstring injury in what would have was his first stint of 50 years at the full bar. Such is the nature of competitive sport that an injury, any injury, is just an event, an act, sometimes even a second. As unfortunate as Rohit’s absence is, it will give head coach Rahul Dravid and Chetan Sharma’s selection jury a chance to consider another option, as although the immediate attraction is the T20 World Cup. later in the year, it’s worth remembering that India will host the 50-plus World Cup next year.
It is too early to talk about the prospects for qualifying for the World Test Championship final. India are here and at pretty much that early stage, but they have three and a half series left and a clearer picture will emerge following the two-game home streak against Sri Lanka in February-March. Without taking their eyes off the WTC ball, India will be paying more attention to the T20 World Cup. The previous edition in the United Arab Emirates must have been a big shock to the ecosystem of the senior team; their inability to progress beyond the Super 12s has prolonged India’s drought in ICC competitions to eight, and that’s just too long for a team that has performed exceptionally well in bilateral showdowns otherwise.
One does not need hindsight to realize that India has been tactically failing in the celebration of the United Arab Emirates. Okay, the postponed second half of the IPL, which ended just a week before India kicked off its World Cup campaign against Pakistan, had left the entire squad jaded and tired. But even otherwise, there was a glaring lack of balance and full options available to Kohli, with Hardik Pandya unable to bowling at first and the team littered with drummers who couldn’t bowling and bowlers you couldn’t count on. to throw their bats with even marginal efficiency when the need arises.
India was too dependent on their top three, and once Rohit, KL Rahul and Kohli – the now established leading playgroup – didn’t set the bleachers on fire, they found the task incredibly difficult against d Pakistan and New Zealand possesses excellent bowling attacks. Dravid has already identified the need for a greater distribution of resources and to create alternatives if they do not exist. The first indication that change is in sight came when Venkatesh Iyer slipped the order from his opening position for Madhya Pradesh in the domestic white ball game and invariably sent a few medium-pace overs. It is precisely this attention to detail, leaving nothing to chance and refusing to blame the immediate unavailability of finished products, which makes Dravid famous. Having identified a potential solution to an eternal problem so early in his tenure as head coach, the former captain reaffirmed the belief that the senior team are in good hands.
Dravid’s role becomes even more important given the division of captain responsibilities between Kohli and Rohit. That the two men are certainties in the three formats gives a dimension hitherto absent from Indian cricket. When India had separate captains in the past – Anil Kumble and Mahendra Singh Dhoni between 2007 and 2008, and Dhoni and Kohli between 2015 and 2017 – one of the two skippers was not available for the other variant. This time the lines are not so pronounced in black and white. It is in how this gray area is managed that Dravid’s acclaimed male management skills will be tested.
Fortunately, despite the white noise from outside, neither Kohli nor Rohit are predisposed to go against the grain. One of the big myths in international sport is that all teammates have to be friends, and best friends, for a team to be successful. History is replete with examples of teams that still dominate despite major numbers that disagree. It’s also clear that Kohli and Rohit are anything but at daggers drawn, so right away there’s one less headache that Dravid will have to grapple with.
The biggest headache for Dravid will be how to optimize player performance. How, for example, to handle Pandya, still among the most destructive finishers in world cricket, but with lingering question marks as to whether he can be summoned for a few fast-paced medium-paced overs in every whiteball contest. How to manage the workloads of the spearheads of the rhythm Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj, ramparts on the Test side but also wonderful limited exhibitors. How to integrate those who are coherent and influential in national competitions and the IPL in the national system without compromising the virtues of those who are already regulars at the international level. And, perhaps no less crucial, how to get the batsmen who play at the top of the range for their teams / state franchises to learn how to strike so effectively in a different position for the Indian team, given how the top is heavy and packed the top- three is now.
R Ashwin’s return to the 50+ scheme completes a most astonishing turn of fortune for someone who seemed reconciled with the fact that his career in international white ball cricket was history. Ashwin fell out of favor in August 2017 when Kohli and former head coach Ravi Shastri put their eggs in Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav’s wrist-spinning basket. Ashwin’s triumphant return to the T20Is at the World Cup and his inclusion in the ODI team for South Africa is perhaps an unspoken admission that a mistake was made four and a half years ago, But it also reignites the debate on where India is going as a spinning force if they are to look to a slowly moving 35-year-old to bolster their spinning department.
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As the limited versions will take up much of Dravid’s mental space, he and Kohli will have to consider – sooner, hopefully, rather than later – future testing of Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and Ishant Sharma. . All three have been excellent performers, established mainstays who have been great servants of Indian cricket, but nostalgia and feelings have no place in the dog-eating dog world of competitive sport. Both drummers have failed far too often to earn much longer strings, especially with ambitious and fit younger men who plead their case. Ishant, the only Indian race leader besides the legendary Kapil Dev and Zaheer Khan with over 300 test wickets, is no longer an automatic consideration and one of the many other young tyros will be better for the experience of sharing a locker room with the like Bumrah and Shami. These are tough decisions, however you look at him, but Dravid has shown many times in the past that he doesn’t shy away from making those tough decisions.
The appointment of Dravid, the rise of Rohit and a few less obvious but equally important developments have left optimism that 2022 will be another rich and rewarding year for the Indian side. That might be the case, but for all the success they have in the first 10 months, it’s their journey at the T20 World Cup in Australia that will be decisive for how this year unfolds. in the annals of Indian cricket.
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