If the World Cup defeat has one lesson for India, it is this: T20 is a young man’s game. When India won the title in 2007 it was a fluke, and when India beat Pakistan in their inaugural match in Melbourne, it was another fluke. The problem with doing well by accident is that teams develop delusions of adequacy.
Sometimes in sport, there can be a beautiful defeat. India’s to England wasn’t one of those. It was a team betting on past reputation losing to one which had plans. India also had one drawback England didn’t: fear of getting out (FOGO). India batted like a team worried about what other people might think.
Playing T20 as 50-over game
By now everybody from the professional pundit to the person who clips hedges for a living has told us why India lost. They play T20 a 50-over game. The top three batsmen wasted too many deliveries settling in. Averages still matter more than strike rates. The bowling lacked ideas. The think tank was too old and used the solutions of another generation to the problems of this one. These have been articulated frequently in the recent past.
We live in dreams, the fans consoled themselves, and we learn how to hoist ourselves from one dream to the next, and move on. Next dream: the 50-over World Cup at home next year.
That the most powerful team, with the most money, greatest number and range of players, the biggest tournament, and unrivalled influence hasn’t been able to win an ICC tournament in a decade gives rise to schadenfreude in other teams.
I have often made the point in these columns that T20 is a different sport that just happens to use the implements of cricket. It has to be approached differently, and performances have to be assessed differently. A player’s primary stat was the runs he scored (or the wickets he took); thanks to the IPL and other domestic leagues, it is now how much he costs.
T20 demands two strategies — one, overall, and the other 720 small strategies, one for each ball of an innings. For the first you need players who take chances, and are willing to look ugly in pursuit of boundaries and sixes. For the second, in addition, you need players with flexibility and match-awareness.
The only batsmen who looked like T20 players were Suryakumar Yadav and Hardik Pandya, and that’s not a good enough percentage. Virat Kohli might play one great innings in a tournament, the sort only he can, but is that enough?
The time has come to put T20 in a separate basket of its own — with its own captain, own specialist players, own coach and support staff. England have done that, and reaped the rewards. The division in cricket is not between the red ball and the white, but between Tests and ODIs on one side and T20 on the other.
Change in personnel
It is a fast-evolving format, and cannot accommodate professionals in the support staff who haven’t had enough games at the highest level. Coach Rahul Dravid has been ‘rested’ after the World Cup. T20 coaches should come from the generation following his. An ideal candidate might be Mahendra Singh Dhoni who needs no extra recommendation. Just as India must look to change their personnel on the field, the same applies off the field too.
When one-day cricket first went international, India played it like a version of Test cricket. And now history is repeating itself with T20.
The T20 formula of youth and experience applies to the commentary box too — the former players there wield great influence, after all. To hear hackneyed phrases like “getting his eye in”, or after a batsman defends a ball following a six, “he is batting sensibly, mixing it up,” or “singles can disrupt the bowling” is indication enough that some are speaking of a different game altogether.
Read the numbers
If the Board of Control for Cricket in India is serious about a post mortem (and not simply in axing everybody), they should spend time with the number-crunchers, the statisticians, the analysts — understanding data is more important than appreciating a cover drive in the format. Once that essential truth percolates through, India can start dreaming about the 2024 World Cup.
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