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What should India try in the upcoming T20I series against New Zealand?

Renowned American writer and humorist, Mark Twain once wrote – “Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.” Whether the same can be said for cricket calls for a different debate, but there cannot be any argument on the overflow of cricketing action the fans have been treated with over the last few months.

The T20 World Cup 2021 started right after the Indian T20 League, and barely a couple of days after Australia’s first triumph in the 20-over World Cup, the focus has shifted to the three-match T20I series between India and New Zealand.

Fourteen years ago, the Indian cricket team went under the knife for a major makeover, after an early exit from the 50-over World Cup. Met with the same fate in the recently-concluded T20 World Cup, Indian cricket could be headed towards another shot at complete rejuvenescence.

Many first-team players will not be featuring in this series, and while the word ‘rested’ does more justice to their cause of absence than ‘dropped’, the youngsters have been provided with a fantastic opportunity to show what they are made of.

Let’s have a look at what India should try in this series:

Horses for courses – Players need well-defined roles

The team selectors have picked a young team for this series, which on paper looks very promising, but a closer inspection will tell us that the squad is lopsided. Ruturaj Gaikwad and Venkatesh Iyer were phenomenal in the Indian T20 League, but they both played as an opener.

With KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma seemingly being an indispensable part of the team, Rahul Dravid and his management team will need to define roles for Gaikwad and Iyer, as they should for everyone else in the squad.

Iyer can be tried as a finisher, while Ruturaj Gaikwad and Ishan Kishan, two promising openers, can fight for the number three role. Whatever the plan may be, it should be conveyed transparently. Players knowing exactly what is being expected from them will not only keep unwanted confusion at bay, but will also help them mould their game according to their position.

Experiments should not lead to panic

With some key players unavailable, this is a series where India’s newly-appointed head coach and his coaching staff can try out a few experiments. There is, however, a negative aspect of too many experiments. With some players likely to play in a position he is not accustomed to, it is only fair to give everyone a prolonged run in their respective place.

Amending approach in the powerplay

Much has been spoken about India’s anachronistic approach in the powerplay overs of T20I cricket. The graph above, which is made using T20I data from 1st January of last year, shows where India’s openers are placed in comparison with other openers.

In the strike rate cluster of 27 batters who have faced 75 or more deliveries in the first six overs, Rohit Sharma is placed at the seventh position, with a strike rate of 148.98, while KL Rahul is placed at the 11th position. In terms of runs scored, Rahul might be in fifth place, but his strike rate of under 130 is certainly not impressive.

On the other hand, skipper Rohit Sharma’s has a better strike rate, but he has scored only 146 T20I runs in the powerplay overs since 2020. India will need to work on their approach in the powerplay overs and find a way of preserving overs by not playing overwhelmingly conservative cricket.

Find new options for death bowling

While powerplay has been India’s Achilles heel in terms of their batting, the Men in Blue have also struggled in the death overs, with their bowlers letting them down this time around.

The graph above contains data of bowlers who have bowled a minimum of 50 balls in the death overs (16-20) of the last two editions of the Indian T20 League combined. One look at the graph will tell us how spectacular Jasprit Bumrah has been, but the story is different for Mohammed Shami.

He has picked up 23 wickets at the death, but has conceded nearly 11 runs per over. The less we speak about Bhuvneshwar Kumar the better, as while he too has conceded nearly 11 runs per over, the veteran has picked up only 3 wickets.

Harshal Patel, who won the Purple Cap last season, could solve the problem for Rahul Dravid. Not only has he picked up 22 wickets in this sample size, but he also has an economy rate of just over 9 runs per over. Avesh Khan, who is a potent option with the new ball, does not pick up wickets aplenty at the death, but is usually very economical – conceding less than 9 runs per over.

 

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