On the eve of the 2022 T20 World Cup opener against arch-rivals Pakistan on Sunday, India skipper Rohit Sharma has made his intentions clear. Winning combinations do not matter anymore, so expect constant chop and change of the playing eleven at the showpiece event in Australia.
Does that really work?
In the Indian Premier League, two sides that are yet to lay their hands on the silverware since the inception of the cash-rich league in 2008, have often been found wanting towards the business end of the tournament. No prizes for guessing! Royal Challengers Bangalore and Punjab Kings have failed to get their combinations right each season, and have constantly tweaked their playing eleven.
On the other hand, Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians, the most successful sides in the tournament, have more or less retained their core across all the seasons and reaped the results with four and five IPL titles, respectively. Interestingly, Rohit leads the Mumbai franchise!
Ok! Let’s get our focus back to the T20 World Cup for now! The desperation to lay their hands on any ICC crown post-2013 Champions Trophy could be one major reason for Rohit Sharma and the team management to revisit their approach.
“If need be we will change playing XI in every game,” Rohit said during the press conference on the eve of the marque clash against the men-in-green.
“It’s a challenge to not win an ICC trophy for nine years. The last one we won was in 2013 (Champions Trophy). With a team like India, there are always a lot of expectations and are certainly disappointed with that (on not having the trophies in last nine years),” he added.
The lost opportunities in the past six editions of the T20 World Cup could be haunting the side. After Mahendra Singh Dhoni inspired a new generation of cricketers to be world beaters in South Africa in the inaugural edition in 2007, India lost out in the group stages in the 2009, 2010 and 2012 editions of the tournament. In 2014, the men-in-blue managed to reach the final before losing to Sri Lanka, while in 2016, hosts India were ousted in the semifinal after losing out to the West Indies.
In 2021, India returned as hosts again, albeit in the UAE and Oman, thanks to the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, before failing to make it to the knockout stage. To make matters worse, the Indian team lost to Pakistan in what was their first-ever defeat in a World Cup clash.
“This tournament gives us that chance to change it and do well. We certainly know we have to play our best cricket in coming here and do well. So, we will take things one game at a time and think about that one game, how we will do well in that game and then move on from there to think about the next one,” the skipper said.
Rohit is fully aware of the pressure that his team is under, following the recent debacle at the Asia Cup in the UAE. India failed to make the final of the tournament after succumbing to Pakistan and Sri Lanka in successive matches.
“Won’t say it as a pressure, but will definitely say it’s a challenge for us to come out on top in the ICC events. Not the performance we would have liked to put in ICC events when we play the big games (in the past), I believe the opportunity comes and we have the opportunity to come here and do well. We will have to focus on certain things to get that right,” Rohit said.
Now that Rohit has revealed his strategy of going to the extent of changing his playing eleven in every game, does that mean Virat Kohli opens for India in a few games? Or in the toss-up between Dinesh Karthik and Rishabh Pant, will the veteran Tamil Nadu finishing skills be preferred over Pant’s inconsistent but explosive batting prowess? And in the spin department, will Axar Patel’s left-arm spin find more takers than the tried and tested variations of Ravichandran Ashwin?
Rohit and the team management will have a lot to ponder before taking the field at the mighty Melbourne Cricket Ground on Sunday. India and Pakistan have faced each other on three occasions in the past year, and Babar Azam’s outfit leads 2-1 in head-to-head count. However, in the overall count, India is way ahead with 8 wins out of 11 contests.
On Sunday, Rohit and his outfit will look to put the demons of the humiliating 10-wicket loss in 2021, behind them. For that, the Indian opening duo of Rohit and KL Rahul have to get past the dangerous Shaheen Afridi, who gave the duo a torrid time in their last WC meeting. It took just seven deliveries for Shaheen to dismiss both Rohit and KL, and India never recovered after that forgettable start.
Virat Kohli, Deepak Hooda and Suryakumar Yadav will hold India’s middle order, while Hardik Pandya and Dinesh Karthik are the assigned finishers in the side. While the batting is more or less sorted, India’s death bowling will miss the experience of Jasprit Bumrah. In that case, Arshdeep Singh will have to pull up his socks, and Mohammed Shami will need to produce another masterclass like the one against the Aussies in the warm-up tie.
For Pakistan, Babar, Mohammed Rizwan and Fakhar Zaman are the batting mainstays, while the middle order comprising the likes of Iftikhar Ahmed, Asif Ali and Shadab Khan are more accustomed to accelerating on the platform laid by the top three.
In that case, Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s ability to extract movement in the opening overs could work in India’s favour, and if he manages to strike early, it could well be the start that Rohit and the Indian team management would accept with both hands.
All said and done, certain things are beyond the control of human beings, and the weather is one of those. The last thing both the teams and the fans would want is a curtailed affair or a washout as the Bureau of Meteorology has predicted an 80 per cent chance of rain on match day.
And group stage matches do not have a reserve day!
Also Read | Will the 2007 T20 WC template work in 2022?
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