“Where I am, it’s a pleasure to be able to play against guys who are challenging you all the time and hit some incredible shots. Standing in the field when Virat Kohli is batting like that is a pleasure to watch, even though you prefer to get him out. But, it’s still incredible to watch.”
The way Shane Watson sat there at the end of the second Twenty20 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the expression was of an opponent expressing helplessness while admiring the force of the opponent.
Such has been the batting show put on by Kohli & Co.
Watson was being honest. It’s not just about Kohli. What the Aussies witnessed this summer is the coming of age of India’s next generation of batsmen in limited-overs cricket. The India top order is batting like a dream.
The Australia veteran admitted how on flat wickets with true bounce, facing such an array of stroke-players has been a nightmare for the bowlers.
It’s been a huge shift after starting with four defeats, but it couldn’t have come at a better time for India.
The dominating display this week at Adelaide and Melbourne has set the tone for India’s build up to the World T20 at home.
Watson didn’t express it in as many words, but the frustration at his Board’s policy to take the format lightly was unmistakable. There were six changes in the Australia side for the second T20, simply too much of experiment with a month-and-half to go for T20’s showpiece event.
The Indian Board and selectors seem to be following the sound principles of preparation, keeping with the famous saying of Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu: “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.”
The five one-day games notwithstanding, the BCCI has scheduled everything around the World T20. Cricket is a funny game, and an upset can spell doom, but in terms of planning, India will have the perfect build-up to the flavour of the season.
Keeping the three games at the end of the tour to inviting Sri Lanka home and then flying to Bangladesh for the Asia Cup T20, it is to get the team in rhythm. Even the domestic schedule was tweaked to give Ranji Trophy a break and have the National T20 championship.
India’s weakest link had been bowling. Fifteen to 20 runs proved to be the difference in ODI results, but a couple of fresh faces have infused life into the attack.
With Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya, and Yuvraj Singh and Ashish Nehra in the playing XI, the team has the right dose of youthful energy and experience.
Most dramatic has been Bumrah’s entry. He has pushed the batsmen on the back foot with pace, movement and accuracy. It has increased captain MS Dhoni’s options in the slog overs where Bumrah has proved effective with his yorkers.
As they train their guns on the WT20, by getting Yuvraj, Nehra and Harbhajan Singh here, the selectors are toying with the idea of replicating the successful 2011 model. If the senior pros are up to it, India will have seven members from their successful ODI side which was led by Dhoni, and also had Suresh Raina, R Ashwin and Kohli.
Yuvraj, Pandya and Raina give Dhoni the extra bowling options he is desperate for. It remains to be seen how effective they will be in the tougher conditions at home.
As Australia captain Aaron Finch remarked, it’s not about age, but how good one is. “The best players are the best regardless of age. We’ve seen that throughout the Big Bash with guys who have a lot of experience getting the job done in pressure situations. When you’ve got a group of senior players, it brings calmness to the group.”
The batch of 2011 was not actually known for its fielding, but T20 is not just about skills. It’s played at a furious pace, demanding great agility and mobility. Nehra & Co have no option but to be competitive because in between the dropped chances, there has been some electric fielding by the youngsters, with Kohli emerging as the ring leader.
“There’s no doubt they’ve got some great athletes. Ravindra Jadeja is an incredible athlete, he’s got great hands, he’s very quick to the ball and has a great arm. Kohli is fielding incredibly well at the moment as well. Some of the balls he cut down tonight (Friday’s game) kept the momentum from not going too much in our favour. So, those two guys, let alone the rest of the group, do a great job on the field,” said Finch.
Above all, what would have warmed the captain’s and selectors’ hearts is the form of Ashwin and Jadeja. The two have sounded an early warning by restricting Australia’s batting in both the games.
With increased support from the part-timers and fielders, they are looking even more potent. Even though these are early days, Dhoni said this could be the possible combination for the World Cup. Whatever the changes, it is certain the captain will be relying on his two spin aces and the top order to put the record straight in World T20, where his fairytale began in 2007.