Just under a year remains until the 2020 T20 World Cup gets under way in Australia, with the 12 top teams set to battle it out for the grand prize Down Under.
The premier international sides have already shifted their focus to the shortest format of the game with the next 12 months set to afford them ample time to get their T20 combinations right.
It is now the turn of 2007 champions India as we take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of the major contenders for the 2020 tournament. Click here to read about the other leading contenders for the tournament.
Since winning the inaugural edition in 2007 in the most thrilling fashion, silverware has eluded India in the competition despite the strength of their star-studded line-up. Faltering at the final or semi-final hurdle in major ICC tournaments has become the bane of the Men in Blue in recent times and it is a trend they will want to correct in Australia next year.
The pain of the heartbreaking defeat to New Zealand in this year’s 50-over World Cup semi-final still lingers strong for Virat Kohli’s men and another failure in the 2020 T20 competition will only cast further doubts over their mentality. The pressure, with a cricket fervent billion-plus population behind them, is always immense for India and there will be no hiding place when they embark on their campaign in Australia.
T20I cricket had taken a back seat for the Indian team management in the last few years with their major stars being rested for several bilateral clashes. That will now change for Ravi Shastri and co with two back-to-back T2o World Cups coming up in 2020 and 2021.
The India top-order comprising Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan remains one of the best in the business with few sides having the capability to match their batting prowess.
Kohli and Rohit form the top-two when it comes to run-scorers in the T20I format with the duo aggregating nearly 5,000 runs between them. They also have KL Rahul in their ranks who can interchange comfortably with Dhawan in the opening slot, and the right-hander is one of the better T20 batsmen in the world despite his woes in the Test and ODI formats.
In Jasprit Bumrah, India also have arguably the most effective T20 bowler in the business with the pacer’s death bowling prowess unmatched among his contemporaries.
While a formidable top-order and an equally strong bowling unit has been India’s calling card in the limited-overs formats, it is what lies in the middle that has been their Achilles heel in recent times.
Rishabh Pant was meant to provide the explosive batting option down the order for India but the young wicketkeeper-batsman has failed to come good in the shortest format despite his Test success. They have recalled Sanju Samson the T20 side as an alternative and it now remains to be seen whether Pant can raise his game in the face of competition.
Shreyas Iyer has been given a chance in the middle-order recently and the Delhi Capitals skipper is starting to assert his claim for a permanent role with some promising displays in the series against Bangladesh. Hardik Pandya, despite his solid credentials and IPL showings, blows hot and cold far too often at the international level and the all-rounder needs to attain consistency if India are to create a strong spine.
What they need to do over the next 12 months
Strengthening the middle-order has to be India and coach Shastri’s biggest priority in the coming months, but that will be easier said than done. It was the weakness identified by the team management in the ODI format as well in the run-up to the 2019 World Cup, yet, they failed to plug the gaping hole and paid the ultimate price against the Black Caps in the Old Trafford semi-final.
Another dilemma for the team is which mode of spin they want to use in the shortest format. The past two years have seen India ride on the success of wrist-spin twins Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav but they have changed tact completely since their World Cup failure.
Fingers spinners such as Ravindra Jadeja, Krunal Pandya and Washington Sundar have been the flavour in recent months with the trio also providing added capability with the bat in hand.
India are aiming to go the England route by stacking batsmen all the way down to No9 or 10 but it is a strategy which could backfire given the fact that finger spinners will not find much joy Down Under. They would also do well to add another seaming all-rounder as back up to Pandya and Shivam Dube looks like an exciting prospect in that regard.
The Men in Blue will also eagerly hope that both Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya can come back stronger from their current injury woes.
Having taken on South Africa and Bangladesh at home in the last couple of months, West Indies and Sri Lanka are next on India’s radar before they embark on their New Zealand tour next year. The away clashes in New Zealand will be a good indicator of where the team stands ahead of the main tournament in Australia while the home matches should be a good chance for the team to carry out some experiments.
The 2020 IPL edition will also now be significant with the tournament affording India’s major stars the chance to play themselves into some form.
Key Man – Jasprit Bumrah
While both Rohit and Kohli have a claim to this title, it is Bumrah who will be India’s main man in Australia. The 25-year-old is currently recuperating from his first major back injury and India will be desperately hoping that it does not become a recurring theme for their pace ace. A man who can bowl yorkers at will is akin to gold dust in the shortest format in the game, and Bumrah guarantees four tight overs along with a few wickets in every game he plays.
India’s bowling attack automatically lifts when the Mumbai Indians man is present and very few batsmen in the world have the capability to cope with his accuracy when he is in full flow.
For India’s sake, Bumrah needs to first make a full recovery from his current lower-back stress injury.
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