Rahul Dravid Trying the Same Eleven Against South Africa Perfectly Logical, But World Cup Squad Has Room For Changes – SportsMediaz

In playing the same team in all five T20 matches against South Africa in the recently concluded series, Rahul Dravid surprised experts, aficionados and one dare say, players currently in the Indian squad too. But the offbeat route wasn’t without thought and purpose.

With the T20 World Cup looming on the horizon (beginning in the fourth week of October in Australia) – it was expected that Dravid would use the 5 matches against South Africa to try out all players in the squad.

This seemed perfectly logical too since there weren’t many T20is remaining for India to play before the World Cup squad is chosen: two more against Ireland later this week followed by 3 against England and five more against the West Indies when the team tours the Caribbean late July and early August.

Also, India had been beset by problems with key players which actually made the situation even more fertile for experimentation and trying out the bench strength. For instance, captain Rohit Sharma and star batsman Virat Kohli had both been rested to manage their workload.  While neither had been in half-decent form in the IPL, had they been in the squad, it would have been difficult to keep them out of the playing XI in at least a few games. Then K L Rahul, who was to take over captaincy duties in Rohit’s absence, got injured and missed the series altogether. This opened up one more slot in the top order. In the circumstances, it appeared all the batsmen in the squad would get to play one or more matches. However, the same set of six frontline batsmen: Gaikwad, Ishan Kishan, Iyer, Pant, Pandya, Karthik: played in all the matches.

Deepak Hooda and Venkatesh Iyer, both part of the Indian squad last season too, didn’t get a single opportunity. Nor did K S Bharat, as wicket-keeper or batsman, Dravid preferring Pant to keep wickets in all matches, with Ishan Kishan playing as opener.  Ruturaj Gaikwad was played in all matches though he looked below par, making only one half-century in the series.

The pattern was similar in the bowling where, in fact, there were more options available.

The same set of pace bowlers and spinners: Bhuvaneshwar, Avesh Khan, Harshal Patel, Yuzvendra Chahal and Axar Patel played in all matches. Kuldeep Yadav, on the comeback trail after a fine show in the IPL, didn’t get a match. Nor did Umran Malik, for whom there had been rising clamour after his `hot’ performances in the IPL.

Dravid’s refusal to make changes in the playing XI baffled and intrigued many, Dravid found support from former chief coach Ravi Shastri.  “He made the right call,” said Shastri who flew to England this week to commentate on the final India-England test and much of the English home season for SKY sports early next month

“There are a few things Rahul is trying to sort out in search of the best combination for the T20 World Cup, and he’s gone about this in a very logical manner,” believed Shastri.

To this end, Dravid steered away from the most predictable path – give every player one or multiple matches to prove their credentials. This would have put the players under pressure, and perhaps even created panic in the ranks. In persisting with the same lot for all matches, he set a tone for consistency. A player didn’t have to look over his shoulder to see who would dislodge him.
Clear communication of tactics helped assuage feelings.

As Avesh Khan was to say later, he was far more settled in the mind and confident because he had been told he would play all matches irrespective of results.

Instead of trying out all players in a helter-skelter fashion, Dravid focused on giving players, he thought could fill up key positions and roles in the team.  The specific role assigned for Dinesh Karthik, for instance, was of a strong finisher. He had made his comeback into the India squad on the back of splendid performances in this role for RCB in the IPL, and he did this repeatedly in the series against South Africa too.

Hardik Pandya has few challengers as India’s ace all-rounder. He didn’t need five matches to reiterate this. But Dravid played him in all matches to build further on the confidence he had gained in the IPL. Much the same principle applied to Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Harshal Patel who Dravid clearly sees as integral to India’s pace attack along with Bumrah, Pandya, and most likely Shami going ahead. Promising Umran Malik and Arshdeep Singh were made to bide their time. However, Avesh Khan, who may have been somewhat below the radar in IPL 22 but had been among the highest wicket-takers in the two previous seasons, was picked for all five matches, suggesting that Dravid sees him as someone who could complement the skills of Bumrah, Harshal, Shami and Pandya.
In spin, comeback man Kuldeep Yadav didn’t get a game to build on his success in the IPL while Chahal and Axar played in all five.

In any format today, leg-spin is a top priority for all teams/captains and Chahal’s match-winning qualities were reaffirmed in the IPL. As a left-arm spinner, Kuldeep trails behind Jadeja and Axar in the pecking order.

The process of allowing players who fit key roles enough opportunities to consolidate their positions ran concurrently with a process of elimination so to speak. So, Gaikwad who got five matches but could not make a major impact is now not a frontrunner for an opener’s slot as the T20 WC nears. But Kishan did himself a big favour in this respect, scoring heavily to move a step closer in being picked as an opener with Rohit and Rahul.

However, for Shreyas Iyer it was status quo. He did not have such a good series and will be under pressure from challengers to his place in the middle order.
After the 5-match series against South Africa (only four were completed), what emerged was that Dinesh Karthik, Hardik Pandya, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Yuzvendra Chahal have – barring a diabolical collapse in form or serious injury —  more or less picked themselves for the T20 WC. Add to these names those Rohit Sharma, Bumrah, K L Rahul, Rishabh Pant, Virat Kohli, Surya Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja, and a core side of 10-12 players for the WC is more or less ready.

This may not have been possible had the approach been to try and give every player a chance in the series against South Africa. If anything, it may have ended up in the mayhem, with more questions thrown up than answered. This does not mean that India’s T20 WC squad is virtually ready, or that the remaining international matches have little value in the team selection going ahead. Far from it, it’s a very dynamic situation, and several places are still up for grabs. It’s not cast in iron. Even someone as formidable as Kohli has to show a swift return to top form to thwart challengers. Players like Sanju Samson, Deepak Hooda, Axar Patel have the skill, talent, and experience to turn the tables on those who currently look far better placed in the selections What seems to be clear though is Dravid’s strategy of filling up each slot in the playing XI with a proven match-winner, not just someone living on past reputation or stats.

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