Outside noise has made Virat Kohli a better T20 batter | Crickit

Outside noise has made Virat Kohli a better T20 batter

BySanjay Manjrekar, New Delhi
May 27, 2024 11:24 PM IST

The selectors have played it safe. It’s been 11 years since India won an ICC trophy and let’s hope it pays off this time, writes Sanjay Manjrekar.

As we approach another World Cup, the question on everyone’s lips is can India win it this time? It’s been 17 years since India last won the T20 WC. Interestingly, it’s also been about 17 years since IPL started. Unlike IPL, the T20 WC is a very short tournament, so a lot is left to chance. One wide here or there costs you the game and with it your shot at the title.

Rohit and Virat will not commit the same mistakes, writes Sanjay Manjrekar(AP)
Rohit and Virat will not commit the same mistakes, writes Sanjay Manjrekar(AP)

Maybe it’s why we have had six different champions in eight editions of the ICC T20 WC. It’s not always about which T20 side is truly the greatest in the world. Sometimes, it’s about the team that had the best four weeks. The Indian team for the T20 WC was announced on April 30. It’s the one controllable factor amongst many uncontrollables: picking the right team to give yourself the best chance to win the trophy.

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India over the last few ICC events have had a tendency to overthink team selection. Some might argue that selection has erred on the side of safety and comfort, an approach that has not quite worked out. I was hoping India would take a new direction in T20 cricket, especially given the last seven T20 WCs where India went with more or less the same approach of backing their senior, more experienced, players to win it. Curiously, the only time India won the T20 title was when the icons of that time gave the tournament a miss.

Could this be the perfect time to bring in more of the new generation cricketers weaned on T20 cricket, especially batters? Let’s not forget the pressure selectors might feel doing their job and charting the destinies of players in our Indian culture, where there is a fanatical worshipping of certain players.

For some top teams (especially India) because of how the schedule is made, it’s not that hard to make it to the final knockout rounds. For a team of such stature, World Cups for India is now about making it through the semi-finals and winning the final.

It is at this stage that senior players are expected to step up and make a match-winning impact. Selectors who pick experienced players in marquee tournaments and in World Cups share this very hope. Unfortunately, in recent times it has not quite panned out that way for India, where a senior player wins them the big game on the big night securing the world title, just as Dhoni did in 2011.

In the last T20 World Cup two years ago, in the semis against England in Adelaide, India batted first and got only 168 runs in 20 overs, and a shocking 62 in the first 10. The bulk of deliveries in this crucial period were faced by the seniors, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli. Rohit got 27 off 28 balls at a strike rate of 96, while Virat secured 50 off 40 balls at a strike rate of 125, eventually getting out in the 18th over.

India had lost the tournament right there. Thanks to Hardik Pandya’s 63 off 33 balls, at a strike rate of 190, India had something to show on the board. England, unsurprisingly, chased the target in 16 overs with 10 wickets in hand.

Given that the selectors said not much credence will be given to IPL performances while selecting the World Cup squad, it’s surprising that the last T20 WC performance of the senior batters was not a red flag. The same yard stick did not apply for Rinku Singh, who would have walked into that WC squad based on his recent T20 international performances, boasting scores of 68*, 14, 16*, 9* and 69* in his last five innings with an average strike rate of over 170!

Having said this, we can be sure of one thing. Rohit and Virat will not commit the same mistakes made in that semis. It’s worth acknowledging that Virat is not the same T20 player he was two years ago. He must know deep down, surely, that the ‘outside noise’ has actually made him a better T20 batter today than he was two years ago.

Is there still a lingering risk attached to Virat – that when it comes to the big stage, the knockout games, he is preoccupied with batting longer rather than batting quicker? For Indian cricket’s sake, let’s hope this preoccupation is buried deep.

As for the bowling, Yuzvendra Chahal’s current T20 form may seem like a concern to few, but this is a guy with a big heart, a big match player. And when the batters are thinking twice before hitting the first ball for a six as they tend to do in WCs, bowlers like him might have a merrier time in the US and Windies.

I would have personally preferred a Varun Chakravarthy in the squad over an Axar Patel, who is almost a replica of Ravindra Jadeja in T20s. Again, this selection shows India’s cautious approach to ICC selections. Axar’s batting has a lot to do with his inclusion. I would have strengthened my spin attack, considering the seam attack is a little thin with Mohammed Shami absent.

No selection is perfect. India have played it safe with one that makes everybody happy, backing experience once again. It’s been 11 years since India wrapped their hands around an ICC trophy. Let’s hope it pays off this time.

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