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Some important threads from the India-West Indies T20I series

India have won the three-match Twenty20 International series beating West Indies, the current T20 World Cup champions, by 2-1 in an exciting fashion. Here are some of the important threads that we picked from the series.

, ET Bureau|
Dec 12, 2019, 11.34 PM IST
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India have won the three-match Twenty20 International series beating West Indies, the current T20 World Cup champions, by 2-1 in an exciting fashion. Here are some of the important threads that we picked from the series:

INDIA SHED CONSERVATISM
More than three years apart, a similar sequence of events that played out at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, though with different outcomes, provides a significant insight into the Indian cricket team’s mindset. At the 2016 T20 World Cup semi-final, India were asked to bat first and the hosts set up a 193-run target in 20 overs for the loss of just two wickets. It was probably, on India’s mind, a good enough target in T20 cricket, but for the muscular West Indies, it was just a regular one as they comfortably won with two balls to spare.

The big difference, as was realized later, was the way the two teams approached the batting. Of course, with a target in front of you it helps you pace your innings better but it was more than that. India were relying more on running their runs while West Indies were taking the short cut and focusing on hitting boundaries. In that match, India hit 17 fours and just 4 sixes — less than 50 per cent runs in boundaries. West Indies, on the other hand, smashed 20 fours and 11sixes.

It took India three years to accept, or probably acknowledge, the problem. It’s never too late though as the next World Cup is still some time away. But we saw a glimpse of what India are trying to do on Wednesday night. In the series decider at the same Wankhede Stadium, India hit 19 fours and 16 sixes — a total of 172 out 240 they posted on the scoreboard, which is more than 70 per cent — to muscle their way to series win. This was the approach they usually adopted while chasing big targets. And to successfully replicate that while setting up a target gives a good account of the thinking and work that the Indian team has put in address the big chink in their armour.

GIVE OPENING SLOT TO RAHUL ALREADY
A lot of credit for the initial success of this new approach goes to KL Rahul. Like a true ‘Gen T20’ batsman, he doesn’t take, or waste, time to get his eyes in before looking to play the big shots. He is ready from the word go. In the first T20 in Hyderabad, on slightly sluggish pitch, we saw Virat Kohli struggling for timing in the first phase of his batting while Rahul was going bangbang from the other end. And it’s not a recent change in his batting.

In fact, Rahul unlocked his short-format avatar during IPL 2018 where he racked up 659 runs in 14 matches at a strike rate of 158.41. He followed that up with 593 runs in 14 matches in 2019. He has expanded his batting vocabulary reto include scoops, inside-out hits and a variety of sweeps. But to think that he might not have even started the series had Shikhar Dhawan not been injured seems bizarre.

That seems unlikely now, especially keeping in mind Dhawan’s sluggishness at the beginning of the innings. It should be clear to the Indian team management by now that Rohit Sharma-KL Rahul is the best opening combination that they can send out, at least in T20s.

KOHLI UPGRADE
Already the best all-format batsman, it’s sort of hard to imagine what more Kohli could add to his batting. But if you watched him closely against West Indies, you must have noticed another upgrade in his T20 batting. Kohli, it seems, has moved out of his previously used and quite successful ‘improvised ODI style’ batting where he used to take some time to settle in, run hard to convert ones into twos and then towards the end launch an all-out attack. Going by the evidence of this series, Kohli has started to attack early on in his innings and look for boundaries more often. He has often led by example and this new version of Kohli might be a signal to his batsmen what he expects from them.

…BUT WHAT ABOUT MIDDLE-ORDER?
All is well and good at the top. But that has always been like that. India’s top-order batting has been a serious threat for all the oppositions for a long time now. Even in this series, India won on the back of Rohit, Rahul and Kohli — the three scoring the bulk of their runs (441 out 619). But what about the middle-order? How good are India’s other batsmen (plus all-rounders)? Can they help India sail through the choppy waters they might find themselves in on an off day? There was no clear answer to that during the series, thanks to the form of the Indian trinity. There is definitely talent there with Rishabh Pant, Shreyas Iyer and Manish Pandey. Shivam Dube gave a good account of himself in the one chance he got to bat up the order with a commendable fifty.

But the only match where India’s top-order failed, they lost the game (dropped catches could also be blamed for the loss). For India to realize their dream of winning the next T20 World Cup, an in-form, mentally tough middle-order is essential.
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