As India set out for their current run of Twenty20 matches, uncertainty was a factor. Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh and Ashish Nehra, all well into their 30s, had been drafted in and the big question was whether they could turn back the clock and use their experience or would they find the competition too tough.
There was extra pressure on the MS Dhoni-led team after losing the One-day series in Australia. However, what followed was a remarkable turnaround with India sweeping the T20 series. The side has not looked back, and their all-win record in the Asia Cup has installed them as big favourites.
India team director Ravi Shastri believes the inclusion of juniors have kept seniors on their toes, creating a balanced unit that has won 10 of the last 11 T20Is in the run-up to the World T20. The former India skipper told a media interaction that it was a spate of injuries that forced them to look for fresh options, and they have not been disappointed with Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya easing into the side.
“Any good side needs the balance between youth and experience. If you look at history, the No 1 Test team in the world would always have experience and youth,” Shastri said on Wednesday. “The youngsters bring energy to the table and keep the seniors on their toes. They want to emulate the juniors. They think just because you’re young, you’re faster and they work harder to get better.”
Harbhajan feels tournaments like the Indian Premier League have helped youngsters mature faster. “The IPL has provided a platform to all players to get ready for events like this. So, everybody in the team is essentially a matured player. There are times when seniors seek motivation from the youngsters,” he said on Tuesday.
The first area to improve after the inclusion of youngsters was bowling. There were questions about India’s death-overs bowling but such has been the impact of Bumrah and Pandya that in the series against Sri Lanka and in the Asia Cup, India did not miss the injured Mohammed Shami.
“The bowling looked jittery because we had some injuries. In the South Africa series, we lost Ashwin first game after he bowled three overs. We have not had Shami since the 2015 World Cup. We had to look for some new players,” said Shastri. However, he indicated that Shami could feature in Thursday’s warm-up game against West Indies at the Eden Gardens. “He will have to play. He’s in the 15.”
Besides the settled bowling, India’s batting is also working like a well-oiled machine. Shastri said Virat Kohli’s Asia Cup knock against Pakistan was outstanding. “After (Mohammad) Amir’s spell (3/18), for him to bat in that fashion, it was a world class innings. He’s a kind of player who’s hungry. You can see his body language. He just loves the big stage. He wants to compete against the best in the world,” said Shastri.
“Virat is in outstanding form, and so is Rohit. MS Dhoni has done well lower down the order. Yuvraj has struck form. Shikhar has had his moments. To win a big tournament, you need seven-eight individuals performing consistently,” Shastri said.
Having used the Asia Cup as a good preparatory tournament, Shastri called for the team to maintain its level. “Every game is important from here. You might have the odd hiccup on the way. But it’s important to maintain a level of consistency,” he said.