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Wednesday, Oct 16, 2019

ICC trophy test in store for Ravi Shastri-Virat Kohli tango

For Ravi Shastri, then, this third stint as India coach may well turn out to be the most challenging.

cricket Updated: Aug 18, 2019 08:51 IST
Somshuvra Laha
Somshuvra Laha
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
File photo of Ravi Shastri with Virat Kohli.
File photo of Ravi Shastri with Virat Kohli.(PTI)
         

The two-year mandate given to India head coach Ravi Shastri is an opportunity to take care of the unfinished business of winning an ICC trophy. There are three up for grabs within the next 26 months—the Test Championship, which will end its cycle with a final at Lord’s in June 2021, bookended by the World Twenty20 in Australia in 2020 and in India in 2021, both in October-November.

Not since 2007, when the World Cup and World Twenty20 were hosted in the same year, has the ICC scheduled marquee events squeezed into such a short period of time. For Shastri, then, this third stint as India coach may well turn out to be the most challenging.

Also read: Indian players step out on field in new Test jerseys for first time – Watch

It will also call for an unprecedented state of preparedness across formats. With the results-driven format of the Test Championship, the five-day game finds itself on a different pitch, and it means that India will have to treat every Test—no matter the quality of the opposition—with equal intensity.

At the same time, the coach and his captain Virat Kohli, will have to provide equally potent leadership across formats—from Tests, they will have to seamlessly switch modes to T20’s global event, with a changing set of personnel under them.

Expectations will be high of course, even more so now that India failed to win the ODI World Cup, a tournament in which they were firm favourites. A Test championship victory will reaffirm India’s commitment to the longest format, may lure crowds back to stadiums and strengthen their position as a top cricket destination. The World T20 is a matter of pride. India is the destination for the world’s preeminent T20 league, the IPL, but have never won the World T20 in the 11 years since the IPL came into being.

Also read: MS Dhoni spotted playing cricket in Leh with kids, see photo

India’s inconsistent T20 show over the past few years amps up the difficulty level. Ever since Virat Kohli assumed captaincy in all formats, India have lost T20 bilateral series against West Indies, New Zealand and Australia while winning the Nidahas Trophy, away in South Africa, and twice (home and away) against England. Shastri and Kohli look like an all-season pair but they clearly need to work on this format. Another discomforting fact is Kohli’s captaincy record in the IPL, not winning even once despite leading Royal Challengers Bangalore for eight seasons. This is where Rohit Sharma and Dhoni—winner of seven IPL titles between them—can contribute immensely.

They have a nuanced understanding of the game, are street smart, and know the pulse of a few players—Jaspit Bumrah and the Pandya brothers for Sharma; Ravindra Jadeja and Deepak Chahar for Dhoni—better than anyone. Politics and the rumours aside, having these two in the set-up is as good as it can get for Kohli as captain. Provided of course that Dhoni decides to extend his career. Key, however, will be how India manage their players over the next two years.

The idea from now on should be to minimise changes, and also look for players who are adept in both formats so that there is little change of dressing room vibe while switching between Tests and T20.

A well-rounded bowling attack furthers India’s cause in this case. Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal should remain India’s go-to spin attack in the shorter formats though Yadav may be heavily involved in Tests as well. Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, the best exponents of the yorker in modern cricket after Lasith Malinga, will be automatic picks in Tests as well as T20s so their ODI workload needs to be cleverly managed.

The same goes for Mohammed Shami and Hardik Pandya who nicely fits in the all-rounder slot in T20s. Also likely to get a longer rope during this cycle that might witness a fair bit of experimentation are Krunal Pandya, Deepak and Rahul Chahar, Navdeep Saini and Khaleel Ahmed.

“Next two years is to see that smooth transition happens because you will get a lot of youngsters coming, especially into the white ball setup. There will be youngsters coming into the Test match setup as well,” Shastri was quoted as saying on bcci.tv on Friday.

“You will need to identify another three-four bowlers to add to the pool. In 26 months, my endeavour would be to leave the team in a happier place,” he said.

Keeping an eye on the IPL in the next two seasons will be crucial. India already have the impact players. It’s the smaller but key areas—like getting at least two all-rounders and an all-format wicket-keeper batsman—where Shastri and Kohli’s tactical acumen will come under the spotlight.

“I had the belief that this team could leave a legacy very few teams have left behind in years to come, not just for the moment they are playing but at the end of it all... the kind of legacy other teams going down decades will want to try and emulate. That is the desire, we are on track,” said Shastri.

“There is always room for improvement. And with youth coming in through the ranks, I think it’s a very exciting time. When you strive for excellence and strive to raise the bar day in and day out, then you got to pay attention to that detail. When you do mess up, you have an off day, don’t let that day go by, in fact, make sure that you are focusing and concentrating on how you can get over that barrier,” he said.

With Rishabh Pant already set for the long haul, it’s apparent that India’s focus will be on finding another dependable middle-order batsman and not necessarily a No 4. And since ODIs are about to take a backseat (given how the Future Tour Programme has been planned for the next two years), India have more time to go about that business.

Shreyas Iyer and Manish Pandey are likely to be tried out more than other batsmen during this period. Both are accomplished batsmen in T20s but India could be served well if they turn out to be viable options in Tests too. Else there is Shubman Gill waiting in the wings.

Fresh from scoring a double century against West Indies ‘A’ that rounded off a fine season with confidence-boosting performances for Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL, Gill is primed for selection. Consistency in the Ranji Trophy (Gill had aggregated 728 runs in five matches last season with a highest score of 268) will only expedite that process.

Going by Shastri’s word, India will experiment with quite a few players in the coming months. Amid this restive period, there are certain key Test specialists who will need an assuring hand.

Promoting Cheteshwar Pujara to the top bracket of the central contracts is one way of doing that since he neither plays IPL nor other formats for India. More clarity on the roles of Ajinkya Rahane and R Ashwin will help Kohli address the divide between formats. Rahane last played a shorter format match— an ODI in South Africa—in February, 2018, while Ashwin hasn’t played an ODI or T20I since July 2017. With a World Cup gone by without them featuring in it, it’s realistic to assume they may not find a place in the shorter formats.

Sitting with them and explaining the team’s future vis-à-vis theirs is something Kohli and Shastri may have to do soon.

In this significant and highly competitive cycle, Shastri and Kohli will not get a lot of time to clearly define roles within the team and arrive at a winning, consistent formula.

First Published: Aug 17, 2019 23:44 IST

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