After Team India’s anti-climatic end to their T20 World Cup campaign in Australia being mauled by England in the semi-final, there has been a lot of criticism for the Rohit Sharma led Indian team. Many former cricketers and cricket experts have joined this bandwagon asking for a change not just in the approach but also in the faces.
From the Little Master Sunil Gavaskar to the former coach and commentator Ravi Shashtri, all of them chipped in with their two cents regarding the way going forward for the men in blue. A common theme across all these voices is to bring in split captaincy for different formats and get more aggressive batsmen for the shorter format. Another debate has been around roping in younger blood for the T20s.
Hardik Pandya – The New Skipper?
After the debacle in the T20 World Cup 2021, star batsman Virat Kohli stepped down from his captaincy in the T20Is, and Rohit Sharma got into his shoes. Leading his IPL team Mumbai Indians to a record five IPL titles and thereby, making them the most successful franchise in the Indian Premier League history, Rohit came in with a lot of T20 captaincy experience and even more, expectations. There was a change in the coaching staff as well with a cool and calm Rahul Dravid replacing the flamboyant Ravi Shashtri. Indian cricket fans expected that the duo of Rohit-Dravid will finally end the drought of an ICC title victory.
Fast forward to November 2022, after yet another ICC tournament heart-break, the fans and cricket experts are all gung-ho about the need for new leadership, and this time, it is Rohit who is at the receiving end. The Indian opener had a forgetful world cup campaign with the bat where he scored only 116 runs from the six games at a strike rate of just above 100. His slow batting in the semi-final against England was heavily criticized. With age and form not on his side, experts are placing their bets on Hardik Pandya as the new Indian T20I captain, who is currently leading the team in New Zealand in the absence of Rohit. As a captain, Hardik led the new IPL franchise Gujarat titans to a title victory in their first tournament earlier this year and received a lot of acclamation.
Another factor that plays into Hardik’s advantage is his being a pace-bowling all-rounder which is a highly desired asset in the T20 format. He is young, aggressive, passionate about his game, and comes in with an energy suited to the shorter format. To quote former Indian selector and part of the 1983 world cup winning squad Krishnamachari Srikanth, “I would say that Hardik Pandya should be the captain of the 2024 World Cup, straight away, I’d put it that way – number one. And start rebuilding a side right from today.”
With the growing consensus, are we really going to see a new era of Indian cricket with Hardik leading the T20I side for the 2024 T20 world cup?
Time for a generational shift in the T20 format!
T20 cricket has always been about being more expressive and bringing energy to the field. Somehow, it has been associated more with youngsters than veterans. However, the same was not the case with the Indian team in the recently concluded T20 world cup. The team had many players in their mid-30s, such as Dinesh Karthik, Ravichandran Ashwin, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Mohammad Shami including captain Sharma. With a lot of focus on ODIs in the next year, many of these names are not going to be considered for the shortest format anymore and will be replaced with younger faces. Rishabh Pant, Shubman Gill, Sanju Samson, Washington Sundar, Umran Malik, Deepak Chahar are a few names who probably are going to feature more often in the T20I side.
Opener KL Rahul has also come under the radar for his conservative approach on the top and he is also likely going to be axed from the T20I squad for a while. While there are opportunities for many young Indian players who have come through the ranks in the domestic tournaments and the IPL, a lot of focus is going to be on the specialists for different roles. Modern Day cricket is based quite upon analysis and matchups, whereas the Indian team’s approach to this format had been traditional and outdated. Experts believe they need an overhaul like England’s post 2015 World Cup. In that scenario, all-rounders will definitely play a key role and eyes will be on folks like Shahbaz Ahmed, Deepak Hooda, Venkatesh Iyer etc. to seize the opportunities available to them. Every team would want to go with 8-9 batting options and 6-7 bowling options in any marquee game, something India has always lacked.
The semi-final defeat against England will definitely have far-reaching repercussions for the Indian team and while they brace for a revamp at least in the shortest format, it is going to take a while before things stabilize and we get to see the new-look Indian side or as the saying goes, “The more things change, the more they remain same”.