Wednesday’s washout of the India-New Zealand warm-up game in Brisbane means when Rohit Sharma next leads his team out onto the field, it will be at the MCG on October 23 (weather permitting) in what will be his first match as India captain at an ICC event.
Since their tame Super 12 exit at the 2021 T20 World Cup, India have played 35 T20Is across nine series, two unofficial warm-ups (against Western Australia) and an official warm-up against Australia, poring through their combination and playing style. They’ve ticked some boxes, mostly with their batting while question marks remain over the other two disciplines.
Here’s a quick look at what they’ve learnt in the two weeks they’ve spent in Australia building up to the big event.
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As recently as the end of the Asia Cup, KL Rahul’s batting appeared to be on shaky grounds. His return from injury hadn’t exactly gone to plan especially in the context of the high-tempo approach to batting preached by Rohit and Rahul Dravid. The innings against Hong Kong, when he made a painstaking 39-ball 36 was a particularly low point. The pressure was clearly on him. Rahul, who had once exclaimed at the IPL that strike-rates were overrated, sang from a different hymn sheet ahead of the home T20Is versus Australia, stating that he was making a concerted effort on upping his strike-rate.
He walked the talk the following day from that press conference in Mohali, hitting a brisk 35-ball 55 against Australia. Further evidence of the buy-in arrived at Guwahati against South Africa where he hit a 28-ball 57. Since coming to Australia, he’s already hit a 55-ball 74 against Western Australia as well as 33-ball 57, the latter against an excellent attack on a fast and bouncy pitch. That Rahul has regained his touch ensures Rohit doesn’t need to do the PowerPlay heavy-lifting all by himself and allows the rest of the line-up to breathe a touch easy.
A nothing to lose, everything to gain over for Shami?
There was no pressure, the batters weren’t the most pedigreed and on another day the slot ball to Pat Cummins would have effectively finished the game. Mohammed Shami didn’t have much to lose. But by bowling that final over against Australia and winning India the inconsequential warm-up game, he may have gained something: a place in the XI for the opener against Pakistan.
It may be unwise to glean inferences from a single over in a warm-up but going in Shami’s favour is that his bowling looks sharp despite not playing competitively over the last three months. His skiddy short ball can hurry batters as evidenced seven years ago on these surfaces at the 2015 World Cup. India also need death bowling reinforcements with Harshal Patel still searching for rhythm post his rib injury. The dilemma is that Shami has been traditionally used as a PowerPlay specialist in the IPL, a role India have covered fairly with Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Arshdeep Singh.
But while Shami can be expensive at the death (ER of 10.85 in IPL 2022), he also takes wickets in this phase: 14 in IPL 2019, 12 in IPL 2021, 8 in IPL 2022). With him, India can front load with their best fast bowlers and hope he can use his experience to pull off heists like at Gabba.
“I know which bowlers will play in my mind, but it’s important to give them confidence,” Rohit said after that game. “Few of them are on their first tour of Australia, a fantastic place to play cricket and enjoy while learning the conditions.”
Rohit may have wanted the second warm-up just to finalise this decision. But he will now have to take an instinctive yet informed call between a specialist he’d backed through the year-long build-up to this tournament or pick the bowler with experience, but one he and the management hadn’t considered until the 11th hour injury to Jasprit Bumrah.
If Shami is included and in place of Harshal, such a change could see Yuzvendra Chahal become collateral once more as India will try to avoid a long-ish tail. R. Ashwin should then slot into Harshal’s No.8 slot.
Batting time for Karthik
On an average, Dinesh Karthik, India’s specialised finisher, has walked out to bat 15.4 overs into the team’s innings over the course of this year. Batting time has been at a premium with India even willing to bat Axar Patel above him to grant Karthik his ideal entry point to maximise his ability. Notwithstanding his role, India have wanted to give him an opportunity to bat early on to prepare for contingencies. He batted in the second over at Indore against South Africa earlier this month and scored a 21-ball 46.
Karthik also didn’t wait for his usual point of entry — post the 15th over — against Australia and walked out inside the 14th to arrest a mini-collapse that had seen India lose Virat Kohli and Hardik Pandya in quick succession. Karthik also walked out to bat inside the 13th over in the two warm-ups against Western Australia and enjoyed a particularly lengthy hit out in the Gabba nets before the Australia game. All of it will be handy for India’s keeper-bat.
The need for a fielding kick
Virat Kohli produced two pieces of fielding brilliance in India’s warm-up win over Australia but that cannot paper the cracks over the fact that India have regressed as a fielding side. “If you look at all the top Indian teams over the years, there is youth and experience. I find the youth missing here and hence the fielding,” Ravi Shastri recently exclaimed on commentary during the Australia series.
“If you look at the last five-six years, fielding wise, I think this side is no match to any of the top sides when it comes to fielding. And that can hit badly in big tournaments. It means that as a batting side you have to get that 15-20 runs game after game, because if you look around the field, where is brilliance? There is no Jadeja. Where is that X-factor?”
There are few assured fielders and fewer fast legs to cover the large boundaries at the venues here. That Karthik and Chahal put down a catch each in the warm-up will add to the coaches’ chagrin. India will hope they imbibe from those two moments of inspiration from their former captain if they don’t want to concede more ground to their opponents.