Coach Dravid should have learnt his lesson. The last time India was so unsure about their playing XI was in 2007 ODI World Cup when he was captain. That was when the seniors were found wanting. Like at this World T20, Dravid didn’t take the tough calls.
India has had a long-standing infatuation for Rahul Dravid. He has a face that draws out kindness. His awe-inspiring body of work is the reason why neutrals add “arguably” when calling Sachin Tendulkar the greatest ever Indian batsman. His flawless public conduct, refined articulation and the overall good-boy image gives him concessions in most post-defeat inquisitions.
Stubborn has been a convenient adjective to describe Dravid’s various roles in Indian cricket. Stubborn summed up his resolute batting. It also couched the criticism about his mostly conservative captaincy and, in the wake of the World T20 semi-final loss, his unreasonably obstinate coaching approach.
Like all greats, Dravid has a mind of his own and unflattering conviction. As a coach and captain that’s not always a healthy trait. In the lead-up to the World T20, there were questions about the selection choices that the team management had made. The Top 3 spots were occupied by batters with an ODI mindset, there was ambiguity over the finisher’s role and in Jasprit Bumrah’s absence there was no Plan B. He forgave the failures of the proven T20 mis-fits, and continued to defend his choices.
There were reasons to doubt Dravid, the captain. He hasn’t been a successful IPL coach. Rajasthan Royals under him could never relive that inspiring fairytale of the first season. The majority of the 30-plus players that travelled with him to Australia – Suryakumar Yadav (32) being the lone exception – had their best T20 years behind them.
A playing XI with Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Virat Kohli, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, R Ashwin and Mohammad Shami has an aura of intimidation, but only on paper. No self-respecting IPL analysts, or even the wise punters, would bunch them together for a T20 game. These are exceptional world beating white-ball cricketers. Come 2023 and the ODI World Cup and the world can fear them again. In the game’s shortest format though, they looked old fashioned. Times have changed, Jos Buttler and Alex Hales are the new Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma.
India, under Dravid and Rohit, built an IPL all-stars team, not a unit that was a rainbow of the T20 skill-set. It was glitzy Galacticos that could sell the WorldT20 but were not equipped to win it.
It’s not that T20 doesn’t have a place for old-school thinkers. Chennai Super King’s consistency in a notoriously unpredictable format is a tribute to the simplicity of their Super Skipper MS Dhoni’s cricketing engagement. While stringently following tactical conservatism, Dhoni, for years, gave optimum importance to the balance of the team.
In the 2021 final when CKS won, the veteran Faf du Plesis had the new-age young opener Ruturaj Gaikwad as his opening partner. If Deepak Chahar could swing the new ball, Josh Hazlewood would hit the deck. Left-handers Ravindra Jadeja and Mooen Ali would be floating all-rounders with very different skill-sets. There was the ageless Dwayne Bravo. Dhoni’s team didn’t have the sameness of the Indian squad at this World T20.
India will have to look for players with a big-match temperament. They will have to spot their own Watsons pretty early, give them opportunities, groom them and then be patient. IPL top-performers lists, ICC rankings or brand equity can’t be the data to put together teams for World T20s. The eternal faith in those with the habit of repeatedly freezing in knock-out games of important games has been the reason for India’s trophy cabinet getting no new addition since 2013.
This team did need a miracle to reach the last four. Kohli’s magical sixes against Pakistan had the rarity of hole-in-ones in successive rounds on a golf course. Even that once-in-a-lifetime event wasn’t enough to take India past the finishing line. They would also gain from a magical rub of the green too.
When was the last time a ball bowled by a left-arm spinner hit the stump, trickled exactly between a keeper standing behind and fine gully to reach almost near the boundary. This stroke of luck allowed Indian batters to scamper for those three crucial runs in the final over.