Time for India to regroup and think positively

One shouldn’t read too much into India’s T20 series defeat to South Africa, as the Indians have enough time to prepare for the T20 World Cup, scheduled to be held at home in March 2016.

“As a unit we have played very little T20 cricket in bilateral series. It is a young team and we are still figuring out our best combination, or the best way forward,” said coach Ravi Shastri (in pic, with Mahendra Singh Dhoni) after India’s defeat in the T20 series against South Africa.   -  K. R. DEEPAK

Looking ahead to the 2016 T20 World Cup… the biggest challenge for skipper M. S. Dhoni would be picking the best combination for the tournament.   -  K. R. DEEPAK

For Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the energetic cricketer hailed for his vision and known to back his players, T20 is not about brains. He came to this conclusion after suffering a 2-0 defeat at the hands of South Africa in the three-match series at home recently.

“I personally feel that I used too much brain in this format. It’s very important I keep myself free, and go and play my strokes. Depending on that, I play a bit slow initially. In this format, I believe, I should play the big shots from the word go, irrespective of whatever the scenario is because that’s what this format is all about,” Dhoni spoke his mind.

Is T20 plain slam-bang stuff played on predictable lines? The problem with a T20 game is that it can become irritatingly monotonous if brains are set aside.

T20, if one were to believe modern-day cricketers, is taxing, demanding and energy sapping. Having won the inaugural T20 World Cup, India are well versed with the expectations of their fans, some of whom are very passionate and even fanatic.

Nothing — absolutely nothing — short of a title victory would suffice when India take the field next year as the hosts of the T20 World Cup.

“It is a work in progress. There are still six months remaining (for the World T20), and there is plenty of one-day cricket the whole of December until January. We have some T20Is in Australia, and then Sri Lanka is coming to India. There is also the Asia Cup. It is a great opportunity to throw the hat into the ring (for the ones looking for a place in the Indian team); it could be young or old or anybody, form will be crucial,” India coach Ravi Shastri said.

India play a total of six T20 matches — three each against Australia and Sri Lanka — in the run-up to the World Cup. “As a unit we have played very little T20 cricket in bilateral series. It is a young team and we are still figuring out our best combination, or the best way forward,” said Shastri after India’s defeat to South Africa.

Some observers believe the defeat should work in India’s favour, like a wake-up call. It should help the team management to take stock of its strengths and weaknesses and put together an effective combination by choosing horses for courses.

Not much should be read into the T20 series defeat for the simple reason that it cannot be the best indication of the form the team would be at the World Cup. “It is a very long season ahead. We might have lost the series, but I treat it as great exposure in the lead-up to the World Twenty20. There cannot be a better way to prepare than playing a team like South Africa, which plays more T20 cricket than any other team in the world,” said Dhoni.

However, what would worry the Indian T20 skipper is picking the best combination for the tournament. There is uncertainty regarding India’s batting order, Dhoni’s place in particular. Where would Dhoni bat — at No. 6 or No. 5? Or will he play as a roving batter?

If needed, he can open the innings. Why not? Isn’t Dhoni one of the most dangerous batsmen in the format, given his astonishing range of shots? It is just that form has deserted him. Dhoni has the class and the potential to change the course of a match single-handedly.

“One of the reasons why I want to bat up the order is that somebody else takes the responsibility of batting lower down the order, say No. 6, which is a very crucial position. Unless they are exposed, you cannot tell who is good at it. We have played a lot of cricket and a lot of guys have not been successful at No. 6. We have seen them perform well at the top of the order, but have struggled lower down. Someone has to take the responsibility of batting down. If I start batting at No. 5, at least someone else will take up that responsibility. You need to have it in your back-up plan in the years to come,” said Dhoni, revealing what he has in mind.

Whether Ambati Rayudu should be preferred over Ajinkya Rahane is debatable. Rahane is probably the only batsman, other than Virat Kohli, who can be depended upon in all formats of the game. So there can be no comparison between Rahane and Rayudu since the former is technically far superior to take on the challenges in any format. Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Rahane, Kohli, Suresh Raina and Dhoni make a lethal batting line-up.

A section of former players prefers match-winners such as Ishant Sharma and Mohammad Shami to figure in the T20 attack. Even Varun Aaron, with his pace, can make an impact. Even if they go for runs, there is always the possibility that they would take wickets. Ravichandran Ashwin and Axar Patel are likely to grow in confidence as the season progresses.

The defeat to South Africa in the T20 series is hardly going to pull the Indians down because they have the time to prepare for the T20 World Cup. The selection plans are in place as the National selectors have a pool of 20 players to choose from. It is for some reason that Dhoni is looking to experiment at this stage. The process has begun in earnest.