Bigger grounds, lesser grip for spinners, truer bounce for pacers, more horizontal shots for batters and change in par scores. Expect all these when India travel to Australia for the October-November T20 World Cup.
Condition-specific planning with a tour to the host country may have been on India’s wishlist as part of the preparations, but they won’t enjoy that advantage this time. “We don’t have a series in Australia and we can’t change that. So, we have to make do with the two weeks we have in the lead up and make sure we make the best use of them,” head coach Rahul Dravid said after the T20I series against South Africa ended in a 2-2 draw on Sunday.
Defending champions Australia are due to play five T20Is at home in October — two against West Indies and three against England. India will have to make do with two practice games that the International Cricket Council (ICC) offers before they take on Pakistan come October 23.
What BCCI has ensured is no Test cricket other than the one-off match in Birmingham—postponed from last year—with a string of T20Is scheduled in the next four months. India will play at least 15 T20Is, starting with the two matches against Ireland on June 26 and 28, to firm up playing combinations for the world event. T20Is in England, the West Indies and Sri Lanka (Asia Cup) follow before they return for some games at home against Australia.
Going by the unchanged eleven India fielded in all five matches in the South Africa series, the team may not be far from narrowing down contenders for the Cup squad to 18-20. The final squad will be 15.
The home series against South Africa may not have unearthed fresh talent but it reinforced the credentials of Hardik Pandya, Dinesh Karthik and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, all of whom could become key players at the World Cup. South Africa head coach Mark Boucher praised Player-of-the-Series Kumar as “special in the whole series”. Bhuvi took six wickets in the first four games before rain played spoilsport in the decider after India were asked to bat.
“He put us under pressure in the powerplays. Barring one game where we got off to a good start, that’s probably where they (India) dominated us,” Boucher said.
Dravid said Pandya and Karthik were among the best in the business with the bat towards the back end of the innings.
“Both are our enforcers at the end; guys who can capitalise in the last 5-6 overs. Probably as good as anyone in the world,” said Dravid. “It was nice to see Karthik come off. It certainly opens up a lot more options for us. I was telling the guys that you have to start banging the door. It’s not just about knocking the door.”
Someone who is yet to break down the door in the middle-order is Rishabh Pant, though Dravid fully backs him. “We would have liked him to score some more runs, but it’s not that concerning. He is certainly a very big part of our plans going ahead,” he said. “Nobody bats with the power he has. Also, the fact that he is a left-hander is important to us in the middle-order.”
Dravid would know of the importance of a left-hander, considering the emphasis he lays on data analysis for T20 success. That is why an Ishan Kishan could come into contention, to break the monotony of India’s star-studded top order. Do Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Virat Kohli start together is a question India may deal with in the days ahead. “We are going to start looking to firm up that squad as quickly as possible. Whether that is in the next series or the one after that, it’s hard to tell,” he said.
The strategists will be studying how to counter rivals using specific match-ups based on playing conditions. “A lot of the boys have played in Australia before so we will certainly be having conversations with them on tactics and what’s worked for them in the past. In terms of data and analysis, we will look at all the games that have been played in Australia in the last few years. Obviously, all their international games, but also Big Bash, and (par) scores.”
Whether that means someone like Ravi Bishnoi, who is a predominantly googly bowler, comes in as the third spinner behind Yuzvendra Chahal and Ravindra Jadeja or whether left-arm Axar Patel keeps his place is to be seen. In the pace pack, Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami pick themselves, and Harshal Patel, the death overs specialist, too appears to have done enough. Whether India decide to pick the uncapped Umran Malik in the 15 or go for Arshdeep Singh’s left-arm variation will be a move to watch.
India’s T20 schedule before World Cup
2 matches vs Ireland – June 26-28 – Away
3 T20Is vs England – July 7-10 – Away
5 T20Is vs Windies – July 29-Aug 7 – Away
Asia Cup in Sri Lanka – Aug 27-Sept 11 – Away
3 T20Is vs Australia – Sept – Home.