Move on South Africa and New Zealand. There is a new choker in town.
Against Sri Lanka in the final of the World Cup T20 in 2014, against Australia in the semi-finals of the 2015 ODI World Cup, against West Indies in the semi-finals of the World Cup T20 in 2016, against Pakistan in the finals of the Champions Trophy of 2017, against New Zealand in the semi-finals of the 2019 ODI World Cup, against New Zealand in the finals of the inaugural World Test Championship, and now, against England, in the semi-finals of the T20 World Cup of 2022, India have found themselves in a corner, choking and losing.
Barring Bangladesh, India has lost to each regular test-playing nation at some point in the last decade in the knockout games of the ICC tournaments.
Under Mahendra Singh Dhoni, as the captain, the team choked thrice (2014, 2015 and 2016). Under Virat Kohli, again, thrice (2017, 2019 and 2021), and now Rohit Sharma has had his first tryst with defeat as captain.
Not to take away anything from the respective achievements of all three captains, but the team’s last success came in the 2013 Champions Trophy final which was reduced to a pseudo-T20 match.
India’s bowling problem in the ongoing World Cup was visible from Pluto. Without assistance from the pitch, the bowling lineup was a sitting duck, as evident by the hammering from England.
The absence of Ravindra Jadeja and Jasprit Bumrah, and the lack of form of Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and even Axar Patel left little to hope for.
Had it not been for the cheeky leave and the final runs against Pakistan in the first league game, it would have been hard to make a case for Ravichandran Ashwin in the final 11.
The batting problem is, however, more appalling. The one conspicuous error being made by the batting lineup is that of prioritising the average over the strike rate.
While a 120-odd strike rate may serve well in an ODI encounter, a 40-ball 50 is almost criminal in most games, especially from the openers on grounds where the par score exceeds 180.
In the final 10 overs, a 10-ball 15 does more damage than a duck, at times. In the powerplay overs, Indian batsmen have failed to accelerate and go as far as giving away early maidens. Consistently, the team has fallen short by 20-40 runs.
The strike rate affirms this problem. If the numbers for the last four years are picked up, only Surya Kumar Yadav stands out as the batsman with at least 500 runs, a strike rate of above 140 (179-odd), and an average of more than 30.
Assuming the strike rate is 130+, the list includes six players (Yadav, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, K L Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, and Ishan Kishan).
By virtue of both average and strike rate, Dinesh Karthik has proven to be a better player than Rishabh Pant.
Our batsmen are getting the runs, but they aren’t getting them fast enough.
K L Rahul is a standout example. Beyond his miserable performance in the ongoing World Cup where his insecurity as a batsman was visible, there are two other aspects to his batting that warrant discussion.
One, his T20I average against Australia and England is less than 30. Against Pakistan, it’s in single digits, but he’s made up for it with a 50+ average against five weaker opponents (South Africa, West Indies, Scotland, Ireland, and Afghanistan). His strike rate against stronger bowling lineups falls below 140 while it peaks at 159 against West Indies.
The second aspect is his IPL performance. In 2022, K L Rahul was the second-highest scorer, and the highest Indian scorer in the tournament with over 600 runs in 15 innings with an average exceeding 50.
However, in the tournament's list of all batsmen with over 150 runs, 34 batsmen scored faster than K L Rahul. In the tournament's list of all batsmen with over 300 runs, there were over 15 batsmen scoring faster than K L Rahul. Thus, the ones playing cameos, and the ones playing anchors, both were scoring faster than K L Rahul.
It would be wrong, however, to attribute the entire blame to K L Rahul when the team management has decided to back him.
However, from a future perspective, barring Surya Kumar Yadav and Rishabh Pant, no batsman is fit to play the T20I format.
With the next World Cup being in 2024, it would be ideal to leave out Virat Kohli and Rohit, ensuring that they focus on the upcoming 2023 World Cup in India, and the Test championship. As has been the case with all the legends of the past, their T20I journey must stop here.
Under Hardik Pandya, a new unit needs cultivation. From the current squad, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ashwin, Shami, KL, Rohit, Virat, Dinesh Karthik, and even Yuzvendra Chahal must be asked to focus on other formats, if at all. In the T20 setup, they are misfits.
One of the bravest calls in the history of Indian cricket was in 2007 when a new unit under Dhoni was sent to South Africa. Experiment or punishment, the decision is subject to debate, but it created a new trend, one that was visible in the 2008 series Down Under. Strong calls must be made.
Perhaps, a new rule could be introduced by the BCCI where no player is allowed to play more than two T20 World Cups (the next World Cups are in 2024, 2026, 2028 and 2030).
Unless one puts up an exceptional performance that suits the format, a case could be made for a third, but the cycle must be reduced to five-six years now, where every World Cup is followed by a revamp of the squad, partially.
If the team has to inevitably lose, and it shall, best to lose young, gain experience and learnings, and move on.
This is not the end of Indian cricket, nor this is the outcome of the IPL, the favourite public enemy, for the same team was able to pull off a stunner in Gabba a couple of years back.
However, until the management is willing to look beyond heroism, and factor in the future while making critical decisions, the choking shall remain.
Come to think of it, it was the number four problem in 2019 that many felt was a hole in the otherwise strong ship. Come 2022, and the entire ship is rusted.
Heads will roll, but this is more about getting the better heads.
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