The biggest talking point from India’s fourth straight T20I series win against England is their new uber-aggressive approach to batting. Rohit Sharma said so himself in Nottingham. The merits and demerits of the said approach and what it means to a certain Virat Kohli has also been explored in these pages. As has the impact of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and India’s PowerPlay resurgence with the ball.
But that’s not all, there is a little more to unpack from the series as India set on their final three-month run towards that T20 World Cup in Australia. Here’s a look at those.
“In the middle overs when you’re asking people to play a slightly more attacking brand of cricket, looking to take the game on a little bit more, its very hard to judge based on just two or three games,” Rahul Dravid said of Pant’s meagre returns in the South Africa series.
Twenty days later, Pant was out opening the batting at Edgbaston and used the fielding restrictions to good effect en route to a 15-ball 26. Which begs the question: Is this his role going forward?
Pant, who last opened in a T20 in the 2019 Syed Mushtaq Ali tournament final, has a strike-rate of 164.38 from 18 innings at the top. This includes a hundred and five fifties. It’s significantly greater than his T20I strike-rate of 123.91 from 48 matches in the middle-order. So the move makes sense on the scoring-rate premise that India want to adhere to.
Then there’s the advantage of a Left-Right opening pair that can hope to maximise the PowerPlay without being shackled by matchup disadvantages. Counter-intuitively, Pant also has a low strike-rate against spin (107.89) in T20I cricket and opening the batting does have an effect on him that Test cricket does – fewer boundary riders.
But what happens when KL Rahul returns after his injury? For a team big on role clarity, the move suggests that Pant may no longer be competing with Dinesh Karthik for that specialised death-overs hitter slot; he’s most likely competing with Ishan Kishan for a back-up opener’s slot (assuming Rahul remains first-choice). That combination could leave India with only one left-hander – Ravindra Jadeja – in their top-six, and it’s a point that they will ponder heading to Australia.
The obvious intent against spin
One reason for India’s confidence in moving Pant out of the middle-order is their improved intent against spin. Against England’s spin attack, which had a significant absentee in Adil Rashid, they scored at 12.88 runs to the over – the highest ever for them in a series where they faced at least ten overs of spin. They also scored at 10.27 to the over against Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi at home last month, even though a lot of those runs were scored by Ishan Kishan and Shreyas Iyer, who may not be first-choice in this XI.
That said, their play against spin is a far cry from when they allowed Imad Wasim-Shadab Khan and Ish Sodhi-Mitchell Santner to dominate them in the last World Cup for a combined economy of 4.75 from 16 overs.
Jadeja, no longer a four-overs bowler?
In India’s dominant win at Edgbaston, the returning Jadeja bowled two overs and gave away 22 runs. In Nottingham, Rohit Sharma picked a team that needed Jadeja to bowl four and those overs costed India 45 with no wickets in exchange. India were shortchanged at last year’s World Cup with Hardik Pandya’s injury status forcing Jadeja to play as the fifth bowler. While Jadeja has had a renaissance as a white-ball cricketer since returning at the 2018 Asia Cup, the upsurge is mostly down to his improved batting. In fact, playing in a six-man attack for CSK, he’s been required to bowl his quota of four overs only 12 times in 28 games across the last three IPL seasons. The good news for India is with Hardik returning to bowling fitness, the pair of them can share fifth bowling duties and protect each other from negative matchups.
The second frontline spinner
“We see something different in Bishnoi,” remarked Rohit after Ravi Bishnoi took 2 for 17 and grabbed the Player of the Match award on T20I debut against West Indies. That something different is Bishnoi’s ability against the left-hand batters. Although classified as a legspinner, Bishnoi bowls the googly with greater control and therefore matches up well against the left-handers. When picked in Nottingham, he dismissed Dawid Malan and Moeen Ali in the same over. He averages 23.84 per wicket against the left-handers, well down from the 28.16 against the right-handers, a possibly alternative to the first-choice Yuzvendra Chahal, the more traditional spinner with spin and dip, against left-heavy line-ups like England and West Indies.
That said, India can’t have moved past Ashwin for that second spinner’s spot just yet. The off-spinner remains the ultimate southpaw killer and even showcased his white-ball evolution by reigning in the right-handers. In 20 overs since his comeback (during the World Cup), Ashwin picked up nine wickets (five right-handers, four lefties) at an economy of 5.25. More interestingly, right-handers didn’t manage a single boundary off him in 71 balls.
After the first T20I in Southampton, where India put down as many as five catches, Rohit bemoaned the fielding standards, calling them “sloppy” and implored his team to step it up. There were marginally better performances at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge, but not blemish free. Yuzvendra Chahal put down a swirler at fine leg in the second game while Harshal Patel and Virat Kohli put down more straight forward catches in the final game. India don’t have as good a fielding unit as they did couple of seasons ago and will need to tighten this aspect of their game.