With the 2012 ICC World T20 Championships underway, and with Team India to play their first official game against Afghanistan on Wednesday, it is time to look at the strengths and weaknesses of our very own T20 squad- and try to figure out a way around the presence of the immense Piyush Chawla.
This requires an in-depth (or half) intensive look at each of the Indian players, baggage or actual participants, in order to list the number of ways this team could go wrong. Or right. We start with, well of course-
Contrary to popular belief, Dhoni isn’t the greatest of T20 players in the world. Or even in the country. Or even his state. He may have led the famous Chennai SuperKings to plenty of IPL titles, but his insistence on bombarding the Indian side with his Chennai colleagues hasn’t really worked over the years in this format. Apart from the 2007 World Cup, India has been pretty ordinary, largely due to Dhoni’s indifferent form and strikerate. 109.5 in this format, with an average of 30 (but of course, because he bats at 6), is mediocre if you consider the fact that Yuvraj, who bats with him most of the time, is India’s most influential T20 batsman. A win-loss ratio of just over 50%, coupled with some very uncharacteristic (or characteristic, nowadays) captaincy decisions has cost him plenty of respect in T20 Internationals, to an extent where his place in the side has been questioned.
The most shocking statistic? MS Dhoni, ex-savior and custodian of Modern Indian cricket, has a highest score of 48* in 33 T20 matches for his country. That’s right. No half-century. Yet. This could just behis tournament. All he has to do his change the color of his team jerseys to yellow.
Gautam Gambhir (Vice Captain)
Only apt that Dhoni’s best pal Gambhir follows him in the analysis. The two men, who haven’t seen eye to eye on much over the last few years, are starting to affect the team performances with their sizzling chemistry. It is hard to deny that Gambhir has been India’s most influential player in the big tournaments- and his T20 performances go a long way to ensure that they win those few trophies. But, much like Dhoni, he has been living on his 2007 T20 form, and has done little much since in this format. He is a big-match player, and even his form in IPL 2012 brought his underdog KKR team the title against, well, Dhoni and his soldiers. His average of 30 comes at a better strike rate, but his form over all formats lately, has been a massive concern to his well-wishers. That doesn’t include MS Dhoni, for now.
Could very well be the first casualty of the team if he fails for two more games, with Kohli primed to play at any position in the batting order.
Ravichandran Ashwin (Second in command)
Dhoni’s find of the IPL has been steadily building up a legion of fans whenever he steps on the dusty pitches of the sub-continent. As does most of his team, but that’s another matter. With a rapid start to his promising test career, where he shows all signs of stepping into the big boots of Kumble (home and abroad- in every way), Ashwin is most difficult to pick on the turning wickets on Sri Lanka. Pakistan found out the hard way in the warmup game (it was only a warmup, mind you), and he will definitely be first-choice spinner going into the tournament over the clueless Harbhajan Singh. You’d think he was a T20 veteran by now, thanks to extensive IPL coverage, but he’s only played 11 Internationals, with an ordinary average of 48. India must also figure out a way to use his batting up the order in unorthodox situations, but one doesn’t think Dhoni expects his much-hyped batting order to fail collectively over 20 overs.
A surprise pick for the T20 World Cup, Balaji returns to the international side after 4 years in the wilderness. A graduate from the great 2004 class of Indian pace bowlers (with Pathan), Balaji has wowed his way back into the fold after performing well for his Champion KKR IPL side. Only 1 game old, Balaji seems to have been picked by the selectors in order to reproduce the Venkatesh Prasad-shock factor. On the already slow pitches in Lanka, Balaji will be hard to swat away, and every batsman will have to treat him as an extra spinner, and generate their own pace on the ball. His variety (slower bouncers) are stunningly slow enough to send even the most weathered of T20 batsmen into a tizzy, and before they know it, while they’re busy chuckling- their right bail gets dislodged with the electrifying pace of the ball.
His selection cannot be commented on. No words can be found. Genuinely.
A KKR-to-Pune IPL import, and another one of Dada’s darlings, Dinda might get a chance to play sooner than later- thanks to Zaheer and co. indifferent bowling performance against the mediocre Pakistan batting line-up. Dinda counts on raw pace to dazzle the batters, but he will have to find another way out in Lanka, and use the variety that earned him a couple of 4-fors in IPL 2012. Other than that, his insatiable urge to wear his famous headband and wristbands could just distract the opposition enough. What is interesting is the fact that he has picked up 10 wickets in his first 4 T20 Internationals, at an average of 10. Clearly, he is an impact bowler, and a risk must be taken.
Not been in the International scheme of things for a year now, and he has never been the most prolific of limited-over bowlers either. Has been picked due to sheer big-match experience, and might not even get a game ahead of Ashwin. If he does, it will be at the expense of Balaji, depending on the state of the pitch. His T20 average of 30 mirrors his ODI and Test bowling average, and his economy rate of under 6.5 is the reason he still remains in contention. But if a bowler’s prime instinct isn’t to take wickets, over 10 years, one wonders how exactly he has 500 Test wickets to his name. As an expert would put it- I mean, what happened?
Another one of India’s soon-to-be-has-beens is heading down the Bhajji way with not one notable performance since last year’s World Cup. 14 wickets in 13 T20 games is still decent, but a far cry from what real strike bowlers are meant to do in the opening 5 overs of a game. He has lost a fair bit of zip, and depends only on his skill with the old ball, and reverse swing, to prize whatever little he can out of the pitches. One feels that he has given whatever he could, and is drained after the 2011 World Cup- where he seems to have left his heart and hand behind.
The machine of Team India. He has been transformed into the Sachin Tendulkar of the 90s lately, with his team conspiring to fail whenever he plays another one of his gems. Insanely consistent, and can do no wrong. Funnily, he chose to ease off on his form in IPL 2012, where it rarely matters. His reputation in Sri Lanka is already noteworthy, and he must find a way to outscore the number of runs conceded by his own bowlers every match. His partnerships with Rohit Sharma could be crucial to India’s fortunes.
The comeback of the year, for many, including the selectors. Back to his bowling all-rounder form, Pathan has been consistent and has helped his team fill a great void in the lower middle order. His gentle medium pace accompanied by his trademark inswingers to the right-handers have kept him in the thick of things. He might not get much opportunity to bat through the tournament, unless he is promoted, which is entirely possible. The good thing is that Ashwin and him can both bat if needed, and he ensures that there is no way his T20 brother Yusuf Pathan enters the team anymore. He is arguably India’s most experienced bowler apart from Zaheer, and he must improve on his consistency at the death to take his team deep.
A regular in the limited over squads, he has been in decent form. His lack of test credentials not withstanding, one must give him credit for being a solid part of this middle order over the years- with him making the no. 5 spot his own. His energy on the field is important to a team that isn’t exactly renowned for its athletic ability, he is India’s most prolific T20 player- in IPL and otherwise, and also the only Indian T20 centurion. His strike rate of 137 is good indication of the fact that he doesn’t hang around much- risking an ugly swat or two at the beginning, and risking turning purist cricket fans away from television sets when the swats don’t come off.
Ex-vice captain, he won’t be allowed anywhere near that spot again after his IPL semi-final decision. Retained in the squad only for his fearsome, care-a-hang reputation, he can still dismantle the best of bowlers on his day. But his day occurs not more than twice a year nowadays, with these few-and-far-between huge scores giving selectors enough reason to keep him in things- his lack of fitness not withstanding. A poor average of 22 in 16 games won’t do him any good here, but his 150+ strike rate could still set the tone for someone like Virat Kohli after him.
Even now, the starts he gives to the team with Gautam Gambhir will go a long way in determining India’s fate this time.
People fail to remember that Sharma has always been in the T20 scheme of things, despite his insanely poor ODI form and his non-existent test place. Right from the 2007 World Cup, where he was the next big thing, he still remains just that. Attractive performances in warmup games prior to each of the world cups have kept him in the squad through the tournament- where he has done precious little. This could be Rohit Sharma’s final chance (how many times have we heard that before) to stamp his authority over a powerful Indian middle order- where he must be given ample opportunity to bat in, which doesn’t happen because of Kohli’s electric form. Currently, he is learning to be a finisher, and he is a work in progress. The slowest work possible- but all is forgiven when one sees a beautiful ugly swat off Sohail Tanvir into the stands off his bat.
The almost-man of Indian cricket is now part of a squad where he hasn’t even been given a warmup game. This could come down to Rohit’s performance in the nets- where everybody swears by his timing. Still, this couldn’t have been more unfair to the eager Tiwary, who has done everything in his power to push himself into the ODI squad- where he still remains a bencher. Yet to make his international T20 debut, he is still in a better position than the unfortunate Rahane, who has missed out this time.
The last and final member, and once, its most important. To be honest, he is nowhere near full fitness, and the selectors may have been a bit too emotional and hasty to call him back. He looked good in the T20 against New Zealand, but any fan will tell you he was far from his fluent best- especially while fielding and running between the wickets. As admirable as it is, he still has to lose a large few chunks off his body to regain glory, and his bowling could be nowhere near as effective as it was in the 2011 World Cup. Nevertheless, he can never be written off- even as he embarks on thesecond innings of a long and India’s most influential limited overs career.