Three things we learnt from India’s 1-1 draw with South Africa in the T20Is
Pant is a bet for the future but perhaps the hype is getting to him. At present, he is no more than a youngster struggling to balance attack and defence whilst lacking the right temperament to find it.
Ahead of the third T20I in Bengaluru, a surprising statistic emerged. India had never beaten South Africa in a bilateral T20I series at home, and well, they still haven’t. It was mostly down to the lack of a coherent batting plan on Sunday night in the garb of experimentation for the 2020 T20 World Cup in Australia.
Sure, in the longer scheme of things, a drawn bilateral series at home doesn’t really matter at least as long as pertinent lessons are learnt from it.
The bowling attack conundrum
India like to play six full-time bowlers in the shortest format, which in turn creates a thinner batting line-up than in the ODIs. Balancing this equation is then down to all-rounders, and two names, Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja, are sure-shot in the playing eleven. Add to it Bhuvneshwar Kumar and that’s three all-rounders in the team.
T20 cricket has quickly progressed towards lengthening batting line-ups, preferably down to number nine. With Jasprit Bumrah the first name on any team sheet (yes!), it is imperative that India get their options right for the remaining bowling attack. And in keeping with this notion, both Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal have been left out of T20s since the 2019 World Cup ended.
Washington Sundar has a strike-rate of 141.51 in IPL. He is a primary option as long as India can afford two finger spinners in their T20 eleven. Does that mean leaving out one of Chahal or Kuldeep? Probably. Does that mean three spinners in the playing eleven, at the expense of a third full-time seamer Deepak Chahar or Navdeep Saini? The answer to that question, considering the conditions in Australia, will have a deep bearing on India’s squad – and team – selections going ahead.
The top-order dependency
In two T20s against South Africa, the top-order trio of Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli scored 178 runs off 143 deliveries. That’s 62 per cent of India’s runs and 61 per cent of total deliveries faced by their batsmen in this short series.
It is in keeping with ODI statistics wherein the top-order trio have contributed nearly 56 per cent of India’s runs in the last two-plus years. That number crossed 60 per cent during the recently concluded 2019 ODI World Cup. India’s batting strategy revolves around their top-three batting as deep as possible, and in the constricted nature of T20 cricket, this becomes until the latter half of the innings.
Is this the right way to go? For the moment, as the team management is hedging its bets on the same trio that do the job in ODI cricket, considering the consistency bit more than their strike-rates. So much so, KL Rahul, who has a stellar record in IPL, is sitting on the bench still awaiting his chance.
The middle order mess
A downside of this top-order dependency is the gaping hole in the middle, which was glaring in ODIs and is now keenly discernible in the T20Is as well. While the bowling heavy line-up makes for only five full-time batsmen, India have to be very careful with their number four and five options.
At the moment, they have pencilled in Rishabh Pant and Shreyas Iyer for this job, with Manish Pandey a bench option. On Sunday night, as India were reduced to 68-3 in 8.3 overs batting first in Bengaluru, it provided the perfect opportunity for both Pant and Iyer to shore up the middle order. Instead, the Men in Blue were soon down to 92-5 within the next five overs.
Pant is a bet for the future but perhaps the hype is getting to him. At present, he is no more than a youngster struggling to balance attack and defence whilst lacking the right temperament to find it. What is hurting him even more that the team management is now starting to lose patience – after all, there are only so many careless shots anybody can digest.
In Mohali, Pant hit a short ball straight to the leg slip fielder. In Bengaluru, he smashed a half volley high in the air. In both cases, he was lacking in sound decision making. Cynics will argue in this format, those deliveries need to be hit. Sure, but the foremost job of a number four batsman is to evaluate match situation and prolong the game as per the team’s needs. Pant has failed on those counts, thus far.
Of course, Pant’s poor shot selection doesn’t shield other batsmen. While the whole batting unit was guilty of picking poor strokes, Iyer’s dismissal immediately after Pant’s took the proverbial cake. In fact, to a certain extent Pant’s poor execution put a curtain on Iyer’s massive brain fade of stepping out and getting stumped. Everywhere, from commentary to social media, his dismissal didn’t garner as much attention.
It belied the maturity Iyer has shown over the past two months in bolting down a spot in the ODI as well as T20 teams. Perhaps for that as well the Indian team management is at fault. Skipper Kohli revealed after the T20 series that they meant for Iyer to bat at number four before the tenth over, and Pant thereafter. That the two of them stepped out together when the second wicket fell indicated a lack of communication and confusion in the dressing room.
It made a mockery of India’s number four mess, and while there are lessons to be learnt from this drawn series, we will only come to know in November when the next round of T20 matches (against Bangladesh) comes along.