26.02.2019 Author: C.NAMASIVAYAMAustralia won a low-scoring thriller at Visakhapatnam as they beat India by 3 wickets in the first of the two-match T20I series. The game went down to the wire and Australia managed to squeeze out a win off the last ball of the match. In the end, Australia huffed and puffed for a win, a match they should have won comfortably.
There could be any number of reasons for India's shocking defeat at home. The failure of the Indian batsmen other than KL Rahul, Rishabh Pant's bizarre run-out, Dhoni's denial of countless singles and a brace and Umesh Yadav's death bowling. But the most important factor for India's defeat was the team combination.
#2 The tale of three wicket-keepersIn the last few T20Is, India has been going in with 3 wicket-keepers in the playing XI which has affected the team balance. In Vizag too, India preferred Rishabh Pant, MS Dhoni and Dinesh Karthik thus packing the middle-order with wicketkeepers.
The presence of 3 wicket-keepers in the playing XI is one too many. It always affects the fielding standards and restricts the bowling-options. In the Australian innings, the Indians had a wonderful opportunity to dismiss DJM Short with a run-out, but Rishabh Pant, the third wicket-keeper in the team, missed that direct hit to give Short a lifeline.
Any other fielder could have missed that direct hit but with keeper-turned-fielder Pant, the probability of missing the direct-hit was more than hitting. The inclusion of a Vijay Shankar or a Kedar Jadhav in place of one of the three wicket-keepers could have given the team the perfect balance.
In any case, Shankar did not deserve to be dropped after his performances in New Zealand. With the injury concern to Hardik Pandya looming large, Vijay Shankar will have an important role to play for India in the World Cup. Though Kedar Jadhav was in the T20I squad for the New Zealand tour, he never got his opportunity.
The Indian selectors seemed to be traveling in the right path when they dropped MS Dhoni for the T20I series against West Indies and Australia earlier last year. But he was called back for the New Zealand and Australia series perhaps with an intention to give him more match practice before the World Cup. That experiment has backfired with India ending up with too many wicket-keepers in the playing XI.
When it comes to ODI batting, Dhoni is at his best with his waiting game. He can play the anchor role to perfection in ODIs. But in T20I, he has been struggling to score quickly and in this format, there is no place for a batsman playing the sheet anchor role.
As far as Dinesh Karthik is concerned, he is a safe keeper and a finisher. But his finishing ability is limited to the last few overs when the target is in sight. Besides, his utility value is diminished when India bats first.
Rishabh Pant is the embodiment of T20 cricket. Pant with his aggressive intent can take the game away from the opposition. Besides, he is the only left-handed option in the middle-order. Hence, the selector's choice is straight forward going ahead in T20Is.
#1 The Plight of three spinnersAnother important factor noticed in Team India's team composition at Vizag was the presence of 3 spinners in the playing XI. It is fine to have 3 spinners on home conditions. Mayank Markande, who made his debut at Vizag, is an exciting prospect. But playing 3 spinners spells trouble when you are going in with only 5 bowlers and that too when your fifth bowler is Umesh Yadav.
As expected, Umesh Yadav leaked plenty of runs both in the powerplay and at the death. The result of the match was a foregone conclusion when Umesh Yadav was slotted to bowl the last over, as he nullified the efforts of Bumrah.
The ideal combination for India would have been to play 3 fast bowlers, 2 spinners and a part-time spinner like Kedar Jadhav. In this context, one could imagine how much India missed Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh as part-time bowlers who could give the team the vital breakthrough.
The problem in playing 3 spinners is that who should bowl in the powerplay overs. If the team has two strong opening bowlers like Bhuveshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah to bowl two overs each in the powerplay, there is no concern and the spinners can take over from there.
On the other hand, if the team has only one good fast bowler with no back up 6th bowler, the Captain's job becomes that much more difficult in rotating the 3 spinners in different phases of the innings.
At Vizag, India had to open the bowling with Chahal who seemed to be in control until Maxwell arrived at the crease. Before that, Umesh Yadav in his first over had brought Maxwell into action by conceding 3 boundaries. That had forced Kohli to give Bumrah one more over in the powerplay.
In the absence of a third seamer, Kohli had no other option except to bowl Chahal in the last over of Powerplay which went for 13 runs. The fact that India had no sixth bowling option did not help India's cause either in the middle-overs.
In today's T20I scenario, India is perhaps the only team to go in with only 5 bowling options. All the other teams have six or seven bowling options.
The third seamer option instead of the third spinner could have given India a better control both in the powerplay and at the death at Vizag. The general presence of specialist bowlers has lengthened the Indian tail and forced Dhoni to play a strange inning denying a lot of singles which could have made all the difference to the end result.
The Indian tailenders should learn from their Australian counterparts Pat Cummins and Richardson. Both came to the crease in the last over of the innings and knocked off the 14 runs required for the win without any fuss. Richardson was batting only in his 3rd T20I innings. Thankfully, for the Aussies, there was no specialist batsman around attempting to farm the strike.