India chasing perfect swansong for coach Shastri, captain Kohli

Sports Sunday 24/October/2021 09:23 AM
India chasing perfect swansong for coach Shastri, captain Kohli
India are ranked No.2 on the ICC Men’s T20I Team Rankings, only behind England,

With Virat Kohli deciding to relinquish T20I captaincy after the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup and coach Ravi Shastri’s term set to end, India are searching for that elusive trophy with which to bid farewell to an era.

Ranked No.2 on the ICC Men’s T20I Team Rankings, only behind England, and with plenty of experience playing in UAE conditions, India are one of the favourites to claim the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2021 title.

They’ve dominated world cricket in all formats in the past few years, built formidable depth, and excelled at home and overseas. Yet, they haven’t won a global tournament since the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy, falling in knockout games at every event.  

Ahead of their first match on 24 October, we preview their tournament and look at their key players.

“What we've been able to create in the last five-six years is beyond titles and tournaments,” Kohli said at a pre-tournament captains’ interaction organised by the ICC.

“We've been able to create a culture which is going to last a long time, where people want to be the best they can be when they enter the Indian cricket team, the fittest they can be. That culture we've driven with utmost passion and utmost honesty, which we hope will continue to be the case in years to come.”

Few people will argue with this assessment of Kohli about the legacy built by him and coach Shastri and the team over the past few years. India, led by their charismatic captain, with more than a few once-in-a-generation players in their line-up, are a high-quality machine, driving excellence and entertaining their legion of fans. The talent coming through the ranks remains the envy of several nations.

Yet, a recently bare trophy cabinet remains their bane. While Kohli can take solace in all he’s accomplished, a trophy in his hands before he steps down from T20I captaincy next month will be especially sweet – and a strong response to critics of his time at the helm.

Aiding him and Shastri in this endeavour is an Indian leader with plenty of experience holding up trophies: MS Dhoni, the only captain to win the three major ICC trophies in his time, has been roped in as team mentor. Widely hailed as one of the sharpest minds in the game, Dhoni comes into the tournament having masterminded his team to the Indian Premier League title in October.

Kohli has been vocal in his delight at having Dhoni around. “He’s always been a mentor for all for us,” he said. Dhoni would bring “practical inputs, such intricate details about where the game is going and how we can improve by that 1 or 2% which can always make a difference”, he added.

These inputs will be valuable to a team in transition.

The batting is a mix of youth and experience, of aggressors and anchors. India’s challenge will be to identify the right mix and ensure there are those in the side who can clear the ropes from ball one.

Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul are expected to open the batting, with Rahul given the mandate to play more expansive cricket than he tends to do at the IPL. The explosive Ishan Kishan is in the squad as back-up opener, but could also be given a role down the order. He also adds value as a back-up keeper and offers a left-hand option.

Kohli, meanwhile, has indicated he will bat at 3. On grounds where the Powerplay has been key, the role of the top three will be significant.

In line for the middle-order slots are Suryakumar Yadav, Kishan, wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja and Shardul Thakur.

Pandya hasn’t been bowling, so the team will have to decide whether to use him purely as a batter for his finishing abilities. Thakur, a late call-up to the squad, could play in that seam-bowling all-rounder role.

The team’s spin attack looks formidable. Off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin returns to the side for the first time since 2017, offering variations and an ability to bowl in the Powerplay.

Veteran Jadeja, with his left-arm spin, is the team’s premier spin-bowling all-rounder, while Varun Chakravarthy is the mystery spinner.

The form of Rahul Chahar, the leg-spinner, has been of some concern. He was chosen over the in-form and more experienced Yuzvendra Chahal since he’s quicker through the air, which will be useful as the pitches get more tired.

While the excellent Jasprit Bumrah is the leader of the pace attack, there is less certainty about who will support him in the XI, with India having a plethora of talent to choose from.

There were concerns about Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s form and fitness, but the seam bowler got a vote of confidence from the captain. "His economy rates still continue to be top notch, something that he's always been known for, and his experience comes to the fore under pressure,” said Kohli at a pre-tournament interaction, pointing to Bhuvneshwar’s efforts to keep AB de Villiers quiet at the death during a recent IPL fixture.

Mohammed Shami, meanwhile, has proven himself to be a canny operator, able to move the ball both ways and be miserly in the death.

Since the 2016 T20 World Cup, no other team has played as many T20Is as India. Among the teams in the tournament, only Afghanistan, Namibia and Pakistan have a better win-loss ratio than them.

Having played all of IPL 2020 and half of IPL 2021 in the UAE, as recently as a few weeks ago, India are familiar with the conditions and will have a good idea of what conditions to expect as the tournament goes on.

The team warmed up with emphatic wins against Australia and England. Now it’s about executing their plans on the day.
The squad

Virat Kohli (c), Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Suryakumar Yadav, Rishabh Pant (wk), Ishan Kishan (wk), Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Rahul Chahar, Ravichandran Ashwin, Varun Chakravarthy, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammad Shami, Shardul Thakur.

Stand-by: Shreyas Iyer, Deepak Chahar, Axar Patel.

Their fixtures

24 Oct – v Pakistan
31 Oct – v New Zealand
3 November – v Afghanistan
5 November – v Scotland (B1)
8 November – v (A2)
Tournament history

Best finish: Winners, ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2007

India won the inaugural ICC Men’s T20 World Cup in Johannesburg in 2007, igniting a frenzy for the format back home. Under the captaincy of MS Dhoni, a young team defended 157/5 for a five-run win in a thrilling final. The unusual call of bowling with Joginder Sharma – who never played for India again – paid off as Misbah Ul Haq was was caught at fine-leg on the penultimate ball.

n 2009, 2010 and 2012, they couldn’t make it past the Super 8s. In 2014, they were runners-up to Sri Lanka. In the previous edition in 2016, which was a home World Cup, they were knocked out in the semi-finals by eventual champions West Indies.  
Look out for

Ravichandran Ashwin: The off-spinner hasn’t featured in white-ball cricket for India since July 2017. But a bagful of variations and what his skipper described as the “courage” to bowl at difficult points in the game, including in the Powerplay and the death, sees Ashwin back in contention. The grounds in the UAE, where pitches take spin and boundary sizes are large – or larger on one side – could make the inclusion of an off-spinner a tactical call. He can be especially effective against left-handers.

“His variations now, and the control over pace, is something which [gives us] a lot of experience,” said Kohli. “A guy who has played so much international cricket and now when's at his confident best, these guys can go in there and change the game.”

Key player

Jasprit Bumrah: He has pace, but he can as easily take it off. He can get movement with the new ball, send down bouncers in the middle or hit pinpoint yorkers at the death to get wickets at any point in the innings. On the rare occasions that batters choose to attack him, he can adjust his plans to outthink them. Jasprit Bumrah, he of the unique action, is a captain’s dream in T20 cricket, and a batter’s nightmare. An automatic selection in the XI, India will build their pace attack around him.
Big match

v Pakistan – Matches between traditional rivals India and Pakistan are emotional affairs, their reach and consequences extending beyond the playing field. The players, however, insist they approach it as just another game. India have a 100% record against Pakistan in World Cups, but lost the final of the 2017 Champions Trophy to them. However, in this format, the No.3 ranked T20I team are a bit of an unknown for India. Mini-battles, such as between Rohit and Shaheen Shah Afridi and Bumrah and Babar Azam will be keenly watched.