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Can India make T20 sexy again?

by Gaurav Sethi

Or will they continue to take it one day at a time?
What is often seen as a young Test team and a mature bunch of one-day pros strikes me as a conservative party when it comes to Twenty20 cricket. In spite of the inaugural World T20 triumph in 2007 and the Indian Premier League (IPL) avalanche, India plays way too few T20 Internationals and hasn't quite cracked the zen-like thoughtlessness of the format. Yes, they were finalists in the last edition of the World T20 in Dhaka, but it's that expression of madness and knee-jerk decisions which are missing among these one-day wallahs. There's nobody quite like the hardcore T20 nuts Brendon McCullum or Chris Gayle in there. Yuvraj Singh made T20 sexy in 2007, and by 2014 he had checked out. Where's the next Yuvraj? Is he still waiting in the IPL? Where's Manan Vohra? Where's Mandeep Singh? Oh, they're playing Ranji Trophy for Punajb. Where's Mayank Agarwal? Playing Ranji for Karnataka. Where's Shreyas Iyer? India refuses to let the next bunch of youngsters in; the T20 team is way too similar to the one-day squad. (South Africa has separate captains across all three formats, while Australia and England's T20 and ODI teams are vastly different.)
Oh well, down to those usual suspects again: the closest T20 star that India has is Suresh Raina, and as you've been reminded IPL after IPL (possibly since its inception) that he has played more IPL matches than any other player - one can almost hear Siva choking as he says something to that effect. There's a bustle and immediacy to Raina that few other Indian T20 batsmen have, and even when he isn't scoring, he looks as if he's on the move. There isn't too much of a difference between his IPL and T20I strike rates - 140 and 135. His averages too, are similar - 34 and 33. He bosses the IPL and should be doing the same in T20 Internationals. After Shikhar Dhawan, he's the only other top order left-hander, will be a floater, will bat either side of Dhoni. He should bat higher up the order, no lower than number five, and it's time for him to impact a series and not just the odd match. He's also more settled now.
After Raina, this is Rohit Sharma's format to make merry. He is one of the few current batsmen who was there during the World T20 victory in 2007. Where did he bat? At number six. Scored 30 not out in 16 deliveries. Eight years later, I still believe the middle order is the place for Rohit, in T20s at least, and I think he does too. Where does he bat for the Mumbai Indians? Mostly in the middle order, though for a while he was a reluctant opener, only to realise, "I'm captain, I can decide where I want to bat." Rohit's batting has that heady coffee/cocaine wakeful surge that's needed to close out matches or change them in an over - coming in as late as the 16th or 17th over, he has the ammunition to tonk a 30 off 16 deliveries. Like Raina, he too can be a floater. Also, by playing Rohit in the middle order, you can actually open with Ajinkya Rahane who's lost in the middle order and has the ability to bat through the 20 overs, especially if it gets rough out there. After a bad start, someone like Rahane can be the difference to convert a sub-100 score to a competitive 120-130. Think of his work with the Rajasthan Royals.
The question is: does India value Rahane as a T20 player? If they do, it's time for another Rohit-Rahane swap in the batting order. What Rahane did for Rohit in the Tests, Rohit can now do for Rahane in the T20s. What say, Ravi Shastri?
For long, Virat Kohli had underachieved with the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB). Then he started opening with Chris Gayle, and possibly had one of his better seasons. Ideally, Kohli should open for India. He doesn't have a T20 hundred yet, and it's time to change that. He strikes around 132, which is less for a batsman with his hitting ability. It should be at least five-ten more, which will happen once he cracks this format too.
It's more likely that India will open with Rohit and Dhawan. Conventional one-day wisdom forces that decision, even as it negates the switch in formats. It also negates Rahane, or wastes him if he plays in the middle order.
By the third T20 though, India may try something like a Rahane-Kohli opening pair, unless of course, Shastri-Kohli are already thinking that far ahead. Dhawan might be a crack ODI opening batsman but I see greater merit in pursuing Rahane on top of the order in T20s. Both batsmen have similar IPL records, Rahane though is blue-chip across formats, and it's just his batting position that needs to be tweaked. If not Rahane-Kohli, then Rahane-Dhawan on top will do more for the team in next year's World T20.
Form picks the spinners, R Ashwin and Amit Mishra, T20 experience picks Bhuveneshwar Kumar and Mohit Sharma. And as for Stuart Binny, he's always in the mix, because without him, where's the debate?
(In the T20 warm-up match, India A beat the South Africans by 8 wickets chasing 190. India A's team included Manan Vohra, Mandeep Singh, Mayank Agarwal, Sanju Samson, Manish Pandey and Suryakumar Yadav. No player from that India A team is in India's T20 squad playing South Africa.)
First published here

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