At the best of times, thinking has never been Shahid Afridi's strongest suit. Off late, even Afridi has started to outdo himself, both with the bat and the bol. But he is Afridi. He will try and hit both the first ball and question for six. There is no such thing as warming up, sussing the conditions, Dubai or Delhi, living room or a presser packed with knives.
Afridi can be a child like that. When it comes off, he's a full force gale, both baffling and mesmerising. This tends to happen more with the ball in hand these days.
Then there is the Indian cricket team. On the back of so many wins, beating Australia, beating Sri Lanka, beating the Asia Cup, beating themselves. Rohit, Dhawan, Raina, Yuvraj, Pandya, Jadeja. Plus Kohli and Dhoni. A team assembled to chase down 200-plus totals.
But what if it isn't a 200-plus total? What if it's barely a 100-plus total? Or a total less than 100, like when they had to chase down 83 against Mohammad Amir's fearsome yorkers?
On February 9, India's batting lost it to debutant, Kasun Rajitha on an "English wicket" in Pune. Rohit-0. Rahane-4. Dhawan-9. All falling to the debutant. India failed to bat out the 20 overs, scoring just 101 on a seaming wicket against a rookie Sri Lankan side.
On 27th February against Amir, India was whacked: 8 for 3. Rohit-0. Rahane-0. Raina-1. A close call against Kohli went his way or it could've been four down for very little and the result somewhat different.
On 15th March against New Zealand, on a turner, India found itself at 12 for 3. Dhawan-1, Rohit-5, Raina-1. Yuvraj-4.
Then there's Ravindra Jadeja. Like Afridi, he's essentially a bowler. Unlike Afridi, he plays in the IPL where he has scored some runs.
Batting for India, however, he's done less than little - when the top order comes off, he doesn't bat, when the top order fails, he doesn't bat. Jadeja has a strike rate of less than 100. He strikes at 84.9 in T20s for India. He has scored just 91 runs in 16 innings. Jadeja is India's number eight, sometimes even 7. Jadeja failed to score yesterday. Jadeja's last 13 innings have all been single digit scores.
Hardik Pandya is part of India's plans to score mega. He is India's new number seven. It's still very early days for Pandya, but he appears to be a dasher. Next few matches could indicate if he has a Plan B. Four of Pandya's six innings have been single digit scores.
Jadeja and Pandya are the support cast. It's Dhawan and Rohit who are the leads. Like Afridi, both have games and temperament that favour the shorter format, more often than not, flat pitches that have no sign of seam or spin. Rahane, the other opening option, though technically tighter, hasn't quite adapted to the format and can be equally oblivious of the conditions.
The question is, will the team management continue to be oblivious of the conditions? If there's something in the wicket, should they still open with Rohit and Dhawan? Does Kohli become an opening option? Can Ashwin be the other option? Is Rahane worth another shot? Who does he come in for?
If the pitch looks likely to take turn, should Pandya make way for Harbhajan Singh? Against New Zealand, part-time off spinner, Suresh Raina bowled four overs whereas Pandya bowled one over of his medium pace. In 12 innings so far, Pandya has completed his bowling quota only twice.
In spite of being one of India's best T20 batsmen, off late, Raina has been way too shaky early on in his innings, dismissing himself with nervous prods to mid on, if not the premature burst to long on. Both expose an inability to defend. Like Rohit and Dhawan, Raina too, never quite mastered the demands of the longer format.
In this World T20, if the wickets are anything like Nagpur, the demands could be just that: put your head down, block, leave, block. Sometimes, batting out six balls in a T20 match can seem a lot longer than playing out the day. Ask Afridi. On second thoughts, don't. Ask Ravi Shastri. He was the master blocker to beat them all.
First published here