Worries for India ahead of ICC Twenty20 World Cup
After being outplayed in the recently concluded Asia Cup, the mood is now pessimistic
Rohit Sharma might feel like he might have spoken too soon when he said he had 90-95% of his core team on track for the ICC Twenty20 World Cup 2022. Concerns about India's bowling attack have now reemerged.
The usual gung-ho atmosphere that involves the build up to a cricket World Cup is missing amongst the Indian team fans. If the cat was set amongst the pigeons by the manner in which India were outplayed in the Super 4 of the recently concluded Asia Cup, by Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the mood is now covertly pessimistic about India's chances at the ICC Twenty20 World Cup next month.
India might be ranked No.1 in the ICC Twenty20 rankings while their counterpart, Australia, might be ranked No. 6 in the world despite the fact that they are the current defending champions as next month's edition of the ICC Twenty20 World Cup. But India's current performances are far from inspiring.
The ranking alone is doing little to reassure fans. The fact that they could not defend a score in excess of 200 runs in Mohali in the first of three Twenty20 internationals against Australia has now given way to debate about whether India can solve its death bowling woes in time for the World Cup.
It is quite possible that India could well turn the ship around in the second Twenty20 international against Australia, and possibly even win the series before their dress rehearsal of sorts ends with the home series against South Africa. However, the nature of their recent performances has raised a few legitimate concerns which, it has to be said, have swirled around from time to time.
All the unnecessary talk about whether Virat Kohli would be included in India's squad for the ICC Twenty20 World Cup was dimmed first by his inclusion in India's Asia Cup and then his performances with the bat. Although there is still vintage Kohli missing in parts, there are signs of a more determined Kohli on the anvil which should ease some of India's batting concerns.
It bodes well because at least in public, the current Indian captain, Rohit Sharma, has only sung praises of his predecessor, avoiding the obvious fact that much had gone down between the board and Kohli before he was unceremoniously dethroned. Irrespective of the relationship between the pair, Sharma does need a fully energised Kohli on board if he is to get his hands around a first World Cup trophy as captain.
But cricket is not just one batsman's game. Even for the one prolific batsman to perform, there must be a support cast and not just with the bat. In the end, it will not matter how many blusterous strokes the said batsman has hit or the batting partnerships that have yielded profitability in terms of runs if there is not a strong enough defence with the ball.
Although India seemed to have begun cautiously well in their campaign at the Asia Cup, the manner of defeats, shocking against Sri Lanka and a telling one against Pakistan, where the bowlers fell short suggested that India did not have their desired line up yet if World Cup campaign was to fall into place as Rohit Sharma had said they would.
That India have now lost another match where the bowlers have come up short, particularly in the death overs, defending a decent score has raised doubts about whether India had a problem it cannot debug in time.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar was robbed in broad daylight by Pakistan, as they pulverised the Indian bowling attack into submission in the Asia Cup. Old warhorse Mohammad Shami's omission from the Asia Cup was considered a blip India could not afford. Jasprit Bumrah is coming into the team on the back of an injury that has made the selectors and team management weary to rush his recovery and not blood him into the first match against Australia straight up.
However, if Bumrah is even included in the second match, it only confirms the genuine concern that India's bench strength has considerably whittled down from where it stood not a couple of years ago with plenty of youngsters on the rise. Over reliance on Bumrah might help in the short run but it is a huge gamble when so much rests on the shoulders of the strike bowler who has had his bout of injuries. In the context of a World Cup, it could spell trouble if Bumrah is India's only bet.
Whether the likes of Harshal Patel and Deepak Chahar can bridge the chasm remains to be seen and with not a lot of time left between now and the ICC Twenty20 World Cup, it would appear that India's experimentation to find their best playing eleven might go down to the wire and even then, they might be left chasing (pun intended).
It has led to some of the leading cricket minds within the spectrum of India's cricket fraternity to now voice concern and perhaps provide a more watered down prediction about India's expectations at the ICC Twenty20 World Cup. While it is true that even teams like West Indies that have struggled to maintain a foothold in world cricket across all formats relish the opportunity of getting on par at the World Cup, expectations on the Indian cricket team are unusually high irrespective of where the team stands in terms of consistency of performance results.
There are concerns that although Kohli and Sharma have hit their batting strides in the course of the Asia Cup, the middle order has not always looked convincing. This might come into play as it did in the Asia Cup. Then scoring runs becomes paramount not only from the perspective of putting on a huge total but also, in terms of how many runs the team needs in terms of cushioning blows against a wary, suspect bowling attack.
For India and particularly for the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), winning has become not only a matter of pride but also, a case for vindication and a face-saving exercise. The showdown between Kohli and the BCCI last year was, in the open, blamed on India's barren trophy cupboard since Kohli took over the reins. The cushy Kohli- Ravi Shastri captain-coach team was also considered as contributing to the status quo of affairs.
With Rohit Sharma now at the helm for a reasonable amount in time, it has become a case for proving one's case, which is why there is that much greater pressure on Rohit Sharma to get it right as he carries not only the Indian team but also, the new management and the face of the BCCI on his shoulders.
Different conditions, different story, could well be team India's argument. A month's time could make a difference in the mental make-up of teams as World Cups tend to raise the adrenaline by a notch or two. But given the fact that India's last ICC Twenty20 World Cup held little to write home about and the fact that there is another India-Pakistan match to kick things off does make fans jittery and cricket pundits cautious about sticking their necks out too far.
Wins against Australia and South Africa might still give India the burst of confidence they are looking for, as long as there is no room for false sense of security to seep through the cracks when taking on the mantle of a championship on world cup proportions where an upset is usually around the corner when teams least expect it.
Perhaps the only comfort team India can seek is in the fact that the first winners at the inaugural ICC Twenty20 World Cup in 2007 was also, another team India. That was led by a maverick leader in Mahendra Singh Dhoni whose team was written off well before the tournament even began. While the current Indian team does not have all its cards in place yet, it still has a better chance on paper, if that means anything at all going into the next edition of the ICC Twenty20 World Cup come October.