T20 World Cup: A case of one step forward, two steps back for India?

The BCCI has done a U-turn on its T20 blueprint after the 2022 semi-final defeat

The decision-makers have kept their faith in players like Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma again (photo: Getty Images)
The decision-makers have kept their faith in players like Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma again (photo: Getty Images)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

One step forward, two steps back? This seems to be the takeaway about the Indian squad named for the T20 World Cup on Tuesday, 30 April, where after much dithering, the decision-makers have kept their faith in the old guard again (read: Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli).

A day after the BCCI announced the chosen ones for the marquee event in the US and West Indies, the only major point of dissent seems to be the denial of Rinku Singh — who had emerged as arguably the most bankable finisher in this format over the past year-and-a-half.

The selectors can take some amount of credit for a job well done, however—so much so that the snub to a multi-tasking K.L. Rahul and the relegation of someone like Shubman Gill to the reserves have not raised much of a hue and cry.

It seems that they had the mandate of ignoring reputations and picking men who would get the job done—but when it came to the Big Two, they played safe, as per instructions.

One can certainly argue that it would be foolish to embark on a challenge of this proportion without this vastly experienced duo, as they would be playing four League games on the untried wickets in the US, but then whatever happened to the BCCI’s blueprint for the future of T20?

After India was routed by England in the semi-finals of the last World T20 in Adelaide in 2022, a post-mortem of the two disappointing back-to-back campaigns in the World T20 in 2021–22 concluded that India was far too conservative in playing this format, compared to the likes of England and Australia.

It also seemed both Kohli and Rohit Sharma had had their fill of the shortest format, as India picked a young side under Hardik Pandya, featuring Yashasvi Jaiswal, Ishan Kishan, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Rinku Singh, Tilak Varma, Jitesh Sharma, Ravi Bishnoi and Suryakumar Yadav.

The change in approach started showing results as India won series against New Zealand and Ireland and hammered Australia 4–1 soon after their shattering defeat in the 50-overs World Cup final against Ahmedabad. However, speculation started mounting about the T20 future of both the stalwarts—given the BCCI’s desperation to end the title drought this year.

The first signs of dithering vis-à-vis Kohli and Rohit showed up when they were named in a three-match series at home against Afghanistan, while they were the last available T20Is against the World Cup. Finally, as many as nine players from the 15 who were part of the 2022 World Cup campaign are now part of the squad for the ensuing showpiece.

Yes, it’s impossible to deny statistics, which tell you that Kohli’s run in the last two World Cups makes it virtually impossible to drop him while in form. In the 50-overs event at home, the former captain scored more than 700 runs; in the T20 World Cup Down Under, he raked up 296 runs; and that's not to speak of him leading the race for the Orange Cap in the ongoing IPL.

Rohit Sharma, on the other hand, has blown hot and cold in the ongoing IPL. But his die was already cast back in January, when BCCI supremo Jay Shah had named him captain for this World Cup.

The moot question, once again, is whether the national obsession with stars’ landmarks is making us lose sight of the bigger goal: that of winning a major ICC trophy after 11 years.

Matthew Hayden, the former Australian opener and now a TV pundit, raised a rather unpalatable question on the eve of selection: ‘’This Virat Kohli discussion is probably the primary discussion here. Is he the individual who is going to win you the World Cup? I mean, his last ODI World Cup was a fantastic campaign. He has got nothing wrong with statistics, historically, no matter what tournament he plays. So the challenge is his experience versus the young impetus that is required to play great World Cup cricket.’’

It's pretty irrefutable logic, as the recent World Cups have shown us. If the underlying concern is being afraid to lose, then the likes of a Rinku Singh, a Ruturaj Gaikwad, an Ishan Kishan or a Sai Sudarshan will continue to lose out!

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