The contradictions began even before a ball was bowled. A day after India skipper Virat Kohli had stated that Rohit Sharma and K.L. Rahul was the first-choice opening pair, the team management decided to rest Rohit for the first T20 here on Friday.
Did Rohit need the rest, given that the preceding third and fourth Tests lasted only five days in total, and the team had a five day break before the T20s commenced?
Rohit’s replacement Shikhar Dhawan, not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, took guard. A scratchy four off 12 balls was all that Dhawan could manage - not the best return for a man labelled the ‘third opener’.
In the same media interaction in which the Rohit-Rahul combination was given the thumbs up, Kohli spoke about a desire to play free, baggage-free cricket by taking the attack to the opposition even if a few wickets were lost. “The kind of players we have added into the squad is to give our batting line-up more depth, and not play in a similar pattern that we have in the past,” Kohli had explained, referring to the inclusion of aggressive batsmen like Suryakumar Yadav, Ishan Kishan and Rahul Tewatia.
Once again, there was a surprise in store, when none of the three were picked in the eleven. The middle-order - Kohli, Rishabh Pant, Shreyas Iyer and Hardik Pandya - had a familiar feel to it, and the innings progressed in the ‘similar pattern’ of the past that Kohli hoped to avoid. At 20 for three, Pant and Shreyas looked to safely repair the damage, and this cautious approach continued when Pandya came in next.
That Shardul Thakur - a useful bat, but not quite a consistently explosive finisher - was slotted at five-drop did not fit with the baggage-free demands placed on the middle-order.
Shreyas, in his clever 48-ball 67, proved that it is more prudent to assess the situation and play to your strengths rather than follow rigid team orders. On a slow pitch, Shreyas relied on time-tested qualities like timing, technique and placement to get the runs.
The promised no holds barred approach was missing from Team India, which crawled to an inadequate 124 for seven.
More mixed messaging came from Kohli during the post-match television presentation. The skipper explained that the pitch was actually not conducive to big shots, and that only Shreyas took the time to judge the demands of the tricky surface.
Apart from fixing the team tactics heading into the second T20 here on Sunday, Kohli must also find some runs. The 32-year-old ventured into the unknown - given the high standards he has set for himself - falling to a second consecutive international duck on Friday.
As England pacer Jofra Archer pointed out after England’s win, getting Kohli out early dampens the mood in the Indian camp. It is left to Kohli to lift the spirits of the home team, both with the bat and as a strategist.
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