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Opinion

India and T20 cricket: A love affair that is yet to turn into a marriage

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17th March, 2021
13

In our lives, we have seen many couples who we know are perfect for each other, but for some strange reason, don’t marry.

I get the same feeling whenever I think of the Indian cricket team and T20 internationals.

Indian cricket meeting T20 was a chance event. It was a casual meeting in the 2007 World Cup. But their relationship took off like a house on fire.

Their parents, the BCCI, doubled down on the relationship and started the Indian Premier League (IPL). India and T20 was a match made in heaven, we all thought. However, the tale of the next 12 years of this relationship has been perplexing.

The IPL has been quite successful in bringing tons of talented Indian cricketers to the forefront. The Indian national team has repeatedly failed to put together a tournament-winning squad for the past 13 years.

The best result in this period since the 2007 championships is a runner-up finish in the 2014 World Cup.

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What could be the reasons for this relationship to have not ended in marriage yet?

Wrong template for batting
In 2007, teams saw T20 as a hit and giggle format. They approached the new format without a clear strategy. It was as a flirtation, and they wanted to use this format as a money-spinning opportunity.

England was the first team to come out with a clear plan for this format. In the 2010 World Cup, they packed their squad with hard-hitting specialist batsmen and specialist T20 bowlers. They out-thought every other team and won the World Cup convincingly.

Another team, the West Indies, found their soulmate and their calling in T20. After a long time, they combined method with their madness in cricket. They packed their team with powerful batsmen who will relentlessly attack the ball through the 20 overs.

Chris Gayle celebrates

Chris Gayle (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

They would waste no time trying to anchor the batting innings for an assault later. They picked mystery spinners and specialist containment-oriented bowlers to keep their opponents in check to support this batting.

This strategy saw them dominate this format and win two World Cups – in 2012 and 2016.

While the rest of the world was taking their relationships to the next level, India lost its way with T20. Their batsmen repeatedly failed the team in the 2009, 2010 and 2012 World Cups. In 2014, Dhoni found a matchwinner in Virat Kohli.

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The team sailed through to the final on the back of his excellent batting. However, Dhoni’s insistence on keeping Yuvraj Singh in the team based on his past glories bit him in the wrong place and at the wrong time. T20 cricket has no place to hide any weaknesses or half-ready players.

The short form of the game demands that you gain momentum early and sustain it until the end.

Even the recent Indian teams have been guilty of playing too many dot balls, unable to compensate with enough boundary hits. Modern T20 batting seems more like a relay race with each batsman coming in and scoring rapidly than an anchor-driven form of play like in one-day internationals or Test matches.

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The X-factor in bowling
The last 13 years of T20 cricket have seen many bowlers’ emergence, spin and fast, with a bag of tricks. Some of them were mystery spinners like Sunil Naraine. Some were out and out quick bowlers like Shaun Tait, Mark Wood, Jofra Archer et al.

The idea was to shock the opponents and take momentum away, even if it is for only a few overs.

Until Jasprit Bumrah’s arrival on the scene, India did not have a bowler who could shock and awe the opposing batsmen in T20. Whenever the opposition batting unit got on a roll against India, the bowling unit struggled to stop them.

The 2016 World Cup semi-final is a great example where India lost after scoring a mammoth first innings score. The West Indian batsmen kept finding the boundaries throughout their chase and won relatively easily.

Having said all of the above, the current team – when full strength – will have Jasprit Bumrah, Thangarasu Natarajan and Ravindra Jadeja, who will bring in the much-needed T20 nous to the bowling unit.

From the IPL, we see some mystery bowlers like Varun Chakravarthy emerge in recent times. Hopefully, a few more such bowlers will emerge from the IPL and get blooded into the Indian team.

The India T20 relationship needs a bit of magic, a bit of spark that will re-ignite the charm that seems to have got lost between the couple since they first met in 2007.