India vs England: India Sent A Wrong Message By Not Playing Their Best XI In Series Opener

India vs England: India Sent A Wrong Message By Not Playing Their Best XI In Series Opener

England gave India a glimpse of their prowess and depth in limited overs’ cricket by hammering them by 8 wickets in the first T20I at the Narendra Modi Stadium at Motera in Ahmedabad on Friday. It was a ruthless performance by England – the aggressive brand of cricket which took them to their maiden World Cup title at home in 2019 and which has seen them dominate both the 50-over and 20-over formats in the last couple of years. England played like the number 1 ranked team. They came with a plan and executed it to perfection.

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India also came in with a similar plan – to attack and be aggressive at the top of the order – a departure from their strategy of being a little cautious upfront and go on the rampage later. More depth in their lower-order with the likes of Rishabh Pant, Hardik Pandya and Washington Sundar allowed the top order to go helter-skelter in the first half of the innings. That the ploy did not work does not necessarily make it a bad one. It is just that India did not execute their plans well.

Also, where they made a mistake was in their selection of the XI for the match. The home team experimented a bit too much for the first match of such a crucial and significant series. Yes, they want to use the five-match series to test their bench strength and give as many players a chance to find that ideal combination for the World T20 scheduled towards the end of the year. But one does not experiment in the first match of the series. A big statement needs to be made in the series opener – that we are playing to win and thus we will go with our best XI. This becomes even more significant when the opposition is the best team in the world and India’s main challengers in the mega tournament in October.

But now, India have given England a big morale booster early in the series and the visitors will be even more aggressive and ruthless in the remaining matches.

One does not try the bench strength or the second-best players against this England XI. This was not a match against Bangladesh, Sri Lanka or Ireland. India and England may well play a big match at the Narendra Modi Stadium in October-November and any more crushing defeats like the one yesterday will give a huge psychological advantage to the home side’s biggest challengers for the competition.

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For starters India made a huge mistake by ‘resting’ Rohit Sharma. Rohit is one of the greatest batsmen in the history of limited overs’ cricket and was also in devastating form in the recently concluded Test series against England. He has the ability and experience to score big runs at a high rate consistently opening the innings for India. No batsman in world cricket has registered more hundreds in T20I cricket than Rohit’s 4. India has won 21 of the 25 matches in which he has scored 50-plus – that is how crucial the stylish right-hander is to his team’s chances in the format. Rohit has also been in fine form with an aggregate of 536 runs in 18 matches at an average of 31.52 and strike rate of 141.42 with 6 fifties since 2019.

The Indian captain Virat Kohli announced prior to the start of the match that Rohit and KL Rahul would open for India with Shikhar Dhawan as the reserve opener. Then suddenly, at the toss we were told that Rohit has been rested for the first couple of matches. There are two big problems here. Firstly, why did Kohli make a statement when the team wanted to give Rohit a break for the first two games – this shows some sort of confusion in plans and strategy. And secondly, one does not drop the biggest match-winner in the side – and that is what Rohit is for India in limited overs’ cricket – for the first match of a marquee series. It sends a wrong message to the dressing room and to the opposition.

It is almost as if India is taking the series as practise for the World T20 in October – that is a wrong approach that can come back to haunt the team. Yes, one must try new players and different combinations but at a later stage in the series or against weaker oppositions. India went in with their reserve opener, Dhawan who could only muster 4 of 12 in his uncomfortable stay at the crease. The left-hander is an outstanding batsman in ODI cricket and was in splendid form for Delhi Capitals in the 2020 IPL but Dhawan has never consistently been a great match-winner for India in T20I cricket. He has an average of 27.88 and strike rate of 127.41 in T20I cricket – below-par numbers for a batsman of his calibre.

India also missed a trick by not playing Deepak Chahar in the XI. Chahar is a specialist in the format with a knack of picking wickets in the powerplay – the only way to keep this England team flooded with one superstar batsman after the other in check. He is also more restrictive with an economy rate of 7.56 for India and 7.41 in all T20 cricket. Thakur, on the other hand, while providing more depth in the batting line-up, tends to go for a few in his bowling in the format. He has an economy rate of 8.9 for India and 8.44 in all T20 cricket – expensive according to any benchmark. The fitness of T Natarajan kept him out of the XI which also meant that India lacked variety in their pace attack and missed the services of a death over’s yorker specialist.

It is surprising that Virat Kohli whose competitive nature and personality, ruthlessness and ‘hate to lose’ attitude has seen India go through their best period in history (in terms of matches and series won) in the last few years would settle for anything but a convincing series victory against England.

The best combination for the World Cup cannot be achieved at the cost of a humiliating series loss against England. That is what is going to happen if India do not play their best possible XI for every match. Like England did. And that will be detrimental to the team’s cause in the long run even at the World T20 later in the year.


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