Conservatism and chaos dog India’s approach to white-ball cricket

When Rahul Dravid took over as Indias head coach in November 2021 and Rohit Sharma was appointed as Indias all-format captain later in the year, there were high hopes from the duo.

There was talk about how Dravid and Rohit would nurture new, upcoming talent, and give clarity over the roles across formats to players apart from smooth transition in the Indian team. The first eight months of 2022 saw India winning bilateral series despite a few hiccups in terms of results.

They had batters who fitted in the T20 attacking mould, people who were looking to find their feet in ODI cricket and even Hardik Pandya was fit again to bring the necessary balance to the side, which was experimenting a lot with players and had captaincy duties handled by eight cricketers, partly due to hectic cricketing schedule.

Now, cut to present and it is all chaos. The experiments, which looked progressive early on, were dismantled to be back towards conservatism. When the T20 World Cup arrived, suddenly the bilateral series-winning Indian team became dependent on the exploits of Suryakumar Yadav, Virat Kohli and Arshdeep Singh.

Then, England exposed all of their issues, which had been laid to rest in 2021 as a result of a 10-wicket hammering at the Adelaide Oval. If that wasn’t enough, then the ODI series loss to Bangladesh has caused panic stations to be activated amongst the Indian fans, especially with the 2023 ODI World Cup happening in the country in less than a year.

At present, there are a plethora of questions that the current Indian team management, including Dravid and Rohit, have to answer. Cricket is living in a world where the focus has been increasingly on players who can thrive in red-ball and white-ball cricket needing different skill-sets, something which England have understood very well.

But strangely India doesn’t believe that Tests, ODIs and T20Is need different players with different skill-sets. Rohit, Virat Kohli, Jasprit Bumrah, KL Rahul, Mohammed Shami, Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja, Shreyas Iyer are majorly seen playing in all formats of the game.

At the T20 World Cup, India was an all-stars team, but did not look like a proficient T20 unit who could go all the way to the trophy. Moreover, the Rishabh Pant-Dinesh Karthik dilemma was never solved in Australia and keeping Yuzvendra Chahal out of the eleven for the whole tournament was baffling to say the least when leg-spinners from other teams were making merry.

A closer look in the ODIs, and the worries multiply. Shikhar Dhawan is an all-time great and has a great opening partnership with Rohit, and thrives greatly in global tournaments. But there are huge doubts about his strike-rate, especially with Rohit being frequently injured.

Moreover, India need to see who their best bet for a back-up leader is. KL Rahul is the vice-captain, but doesn’t look the part to be a leader who can control a drifting situation. The middle-order also has various contenders — Kohli, Iyer, Pant, Samson, Suryakumar Yadav.

Also, who will pair up with Hardik Pandya for being the finisher in ODIs? Is it Ravindra Jadeja or Washington Sundar, who have had a rough time with injuries in 2022?

Among spinners, with no Chahal in the ODIs against Bangladesh and Kuldeep Yadav being a late addition, there’s no real clarity on spinners for India ahead of the ODI World Cup.

In fast bowling, minus Bumrah, India look lost. Bhuvneshwar Kumar did his best in T20Is, but hasn’t been seen in ODIs largely this year. Shami was seen and taken to the T20 World Cup, but was lost to injuries. There’s no idea on who will be aggressive upfront, the middle-overs enforcer and squeeze the runs in the death overs.

And yes, not to forget, India is all set to get a new chief selector for the third time in three years. Under the Chetan Sharma-led selection committee, the expectation of consistency in selection calls was hugely missing with players dropped, rested and rotated for reasons best known to them and the team think-tank.

Even the selectors (the West Zone selector’s post is vacant since February 2021) should have had absolute role clarity for the players and pick the right ones for various slots in the side. They were also unable to look for players with a big-match temperament, especially the ones who wouldn’t freeze in knockout matches of a global tournament.

From January 3 to March 22, 2023, India will play four Tests, nine ODIs and six T20Is at home against Australia, New Zealand, and Sri Lanka across 17 cities. But before that, reports have come of the BCCI reviewing the performances after the tour to Bangladesh ends.

In the review, they have to take a hard look at roles and responsibilities with the team, scheduling, injuries, workload management and selections for various series. 2023 is a year where there is an ODI World Cup at home and possibly, a World Test Championship final in June.

The need of the hour for India in white-ball cricket is to have clear goals and have personnel as per their skill-sets with thorough objectives.

After all, what is the point of all the riches, the immense popularity of the sport and the many superstars in the team when Indian cricket has very little to show in terms of worldwide domination, especially in white-ball cricket?

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