Roadmap for the Indian cricket team

Team India slumped to yet another defeat in the Tour of South Africa. The tour which started with so much promise, was supposed to be the first time that India would win a Test Series in South Africa. After winning the First Test at Centurion, many ex-cricketers opined that India would win the series 3-0. […]

Team India slumped to yet another defeat in the Tour of South Africa. The tour which started with so much promise, was supposed to be the first time that India would win a Test Series in South Africa. After winning the First Test at Centurion, many ex-cricketers opined that India would win the series 3-0. But what happened after that is well known by all fans of the Indian cricket team with their underwhelming performances being a source of disappointment and frustration. Below are some of my suggestions for the roadmap the Indian Team should take in the next year and a half leading up to the 2023 50 Over World Cup which is to be held in India.

• India needs an attacking batsman like Sehwag at the top. KL takes up too many balls to get going which puts pressure on the batsmen down the order. If KL is considered a certainty in the starting XI, it may make more sense for him to play at No. 5 or 6 with Venkatesh Iyer opening the batting. Venkatesh’s explosive batting at the top of the order is something that Team India desperately needs.

• The Indian bowling attack lacked variety with Shardul, Venkatesh and Bhuvaneshwar all bowling with the keeper up to the stumps. This is not to say that medium pacers are not good bowlers. There have been bowlers like Hansie Cronje, Chris Harris and Gavin Larsen all bowling in the early to mid-120s and were incredibly difficult to get away.

• Bhuvaneshwar has been out of form since the last year or so and other bowlers need to be given a chance. He probably should play a season with the India A side and rediscover his swing, something which brought him into the limelight the first time around. Bhuvaneshwar currently bowls at around 130 kmph with negligible swing making him easy to negotiate.

• India needs a bowler who can consistently bowl over 145 kmph and Umran Malik now just 22, can be considered. He will get to learn from Jasprit and Siraj, both certainties in the playing XI. Additionally, the time may be right to restrict Shami to Test Cricket. It has been widely observed that Shami is more lethal with the red ball in hand. While Shami’s first spell with the white ball is excellent, there have been times when he has been expensive in the slog overs.

• A captain is a leader who brings the best from the available resources at his disposal, and it can be argued that KL’s leadership in this Tour has been underwhelming. He seemed to be at a loss for ideas when things weren’t going the Team’s way. The hallmark of a great captain and leader is the ability to think on one’s feet and it has been suggested by some that KL has struggled to do so.

• Virat’s form isn’t the main concern despite his rare 5 ball duck in the second ODI. What worried many observers of the game was his off-colour body language. Emotional outbursts and the occasional use of abusive language was something that one observed Virat when he got out in the past. What is going on in Virat’s mind is something the nation wants to know. Is he made to feel welcome by the team management and coaching staff? Or is he disillusioned ever since stepping down from captaincy?

• One thing is certain – irrespective of how good or bad one considers Virat’s captaincy, we need Virat the senior player and batsman in the team – that is, if he is willing to be a part of it. The BCCI needs to speak with Virat, now 33, as to what his future plans are – how much longer does he intend to continue playing? Is the 2023 50 Over World Cup on his radar or is it not? Virat has displayed a tendency to spring surprises over the last six months – right from stepping down as RCB and India’s T20 captain with neither of these being anticipated. If he is not willing to be a part of the 2023 50 Over World Cup, this is something he should state upfront – no individual is greater than the team, no matter how great their performances or records may be. India don’t need any more surprises like the ones Virat has thrown off late. What India needs is stability. India hasn’t won an ICC tournament since 2013 and the nation is eagerly waiting for the Men In Blue to win the coveted marquee tournament on home soil.

• A long-term alternative to KL must be explored. While a regular member of the side in white ball cricket, he seems to find himself in and out of the Test side because of his fluctuating form. Is it wise to hand him the captaincy? Who else then is the question? Rishabh is too inexperienced, with limited captaincy experience and may be groomed for a leadership role in the future, but now I believe it is too early. My suggestion is to try out Jasprit Bumrah. While never the captain of the side, he showed incredible leadership skills during the 2020-21 Border Gavaskar Trophy. Even though he missed the 4th Test at the Gabba with an injury, Jasprit was extremely involved in the proceedings on the ground, standing on the boundary rope to guide Siraj, among others. His tactical acumen shown to plan dismissals of batsmen over the years shows that he is a thinking cricketer. Many find the thought of having a bowler as a captain off-putting. Jasprit is a regular member of the side in all formats. Those who oppose him as viable choice as captain validly state that Jasprit being a fast bowler may pick up injuries along the way or may be rested for a series or two. But to counter that, doesn’t a batsman also stand the same risk of injury or loss of form? This is something that needs to be pondered and I believe that Jasprit needs to considered as a serious candidate for captain – he can learn the ropes from Rohit, with both playing in the same IPL franchise.

• India must look to the future – Shikhar is 37 now and logic says that he may not be around in the side for much longer. What signal does this give to youngsters like Venkatesh and Ruturaj who have performed with distinction in domestic cricket and in the IPL as well. The selection criteria in Indian cricket has always been pretty opaque, with certain players selected or dropped allegedly due to factors other than performance on the field.

• The No. 4 slot has been something that has long been a problem area for Team India with many players tried with varying degrees of success. It may be time to give Suryakant Yadav an extended run in the position. Suryakant is an experienced cricketer and his exploits at the Mumbai Indians is proof of his ability.

• India is in dire need of a power hitter down the order, someone who can turn the game on its head in a flash. Shahrukh Khan, aged 26 has shown ice cool temperament and can play the role of finisher, something he has done for his state side Tamil Nadu. There are reports which suggest that Shahrukh is being considered for a place in the Indian team for the upcoming series against the West Indies. It will be interesting to see whether Shahrukh can be as entertaining on the cricket field as his namesake has been on the silver screen.

Despite the above concerns, Indian cricket is in good hands. Rahul Dravid has a great cricketing brain and Rohit Sharma is an astute captain and leader. With the two working in tandem, one can expect great things for Indian cricket in the years to come.