In the 2007 T20 WC, captain MS Dhoni told his team to play out the first five overs before hitting out, so that the team wouldn’t crash in its innings. This “slow and steady” strategy succeeded handsomely and India won the tournament despite posting a modest total in the final.
However, it’s been 5 years since that and the policy no longer yields dividends. The rest of the world has moved on and India is still stuck in a time warp. While the likes of Chris Gayle and Shane Watson get their teams flying starts, that rarely happens with India.
In the first Super 8 match with Australia, India posted a modest 140 only to be mauled by their opponents, something that haunted us till the very end.
The second match was even more curious. Pakistan made a paltry 128 and there was no way India was going to lose unless there was a spectacular batting collapse. But still India made a measly 11 runs in the first 3 overs. Towards the end when just 3 runs were required, they took 6 balls to get them.
In the final match, we had to post in the region of 165-175 to put South Africa under pressure, but the slow and steady team could only muster up 152. In the final analysis, India won four out of its five WC matches, which is pretty decent. But their snail pace cost them dearly and they were in third place in the group thanks to the net run rate.
Another factor hurting the team’s cause has been captain Dhoni’s slow and steady batting. While that has led to great stability in Tests and ODIs, there’s simply not enough time in the T20 format. Dhoni has a paltry career strike rate of 111. To put that is perspective: It gets you just 133 runs across 20 overs.
Dhoni is one of the hardest hitters of world cricket and he simply has to change his game for India to have a chance. Either he should come one down and play the role of a sheet anchor or start hitting from the first ball if he comes five down.
In our greatest Test and ODI victories, Dhoni has always led from the front, but that has not been the case in the shortest format of the game.
Changing one’s strategy throughout the tournament made matters worse. The selectors came out with a “neither here nor there” squad and the captain kept tinkering with the line-up.
The five bowler strategy was a non-starter. If you have a strong bowling attack, then you don’t need a fifth bowler. Similarly, if you have a weak bowling attack, then a fifth weak bowler won’t help. The Australia match, the only one which we lost, was the biggest casualty in that experiment.
In 2007, we posted a fresh team and won the Cup. Since then we have been totally unwilling to experiment on such a large scale. It shows up in all our matches in all formats. When we were down 0-3 in both the England and Australia Test series, the team management simply refused to rest the seniors and give debut matches to younger players.
Openers Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir are looking jaded, but no long-term replacements are being considered. When Sehwag was dropped, it was the part-time opener Irfan Pathan who faced the new ball.
Finally, the role of Duncan Fletcher should also be studied seriously by the BCCI. In many cases, the coach appears to be more important than the captain. When Steve Waugh quit the Baggy Greens, the Australian team did not go into decline. That happened when coach John Buchanan called it a day.
The Indian team saw a revival with John Wright at the helm. It crashed with the arrival of Greg Chappell. It saw its golden age under Gary Kirsten. Finally, the slide started when Fletcher took over. In many matches the players do look clueless ever since he has taken over. Maybe it’s time we had a new coach.
Maybe it’s time we had a new T20 captain to revive the team.
Virat Kohli is in the T20 form of his life and could be one possible replacement.
It’s not too early to start building a team for the T20 WC in Bangladesh in 2014.
The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger.
He blogs at http://sunilrajguru.com/