“This format is such that you have to take risks to get on the top. Again, for us, it will be important what we as a team can do. Not to try and replicate what the other team is doing or what the other team is trying to do. They back their strength, which is to play a few balls and then go after a big shot. But for us, it’s totally different. We believe in taking singles and doubles and putting the pressure on the bowler by getting eight-nine an over without taking risks. But again, we are prepared to take risks when it’s necessary” – India’s white-ball vice-captain Rohit Sharma on the eve of the 3rd T20I vs West Indies in Mumbai.
The above analysis provided by Rohit ahead of the series decider in Mumbai laid out in clear terms India’s guarded approach in T20Is – and to some extent, ODIs too. Traditionally, India have always considered the safety-first approach during the start of a T20I innings where their openers don’t go out eschewing glory shots in the powerplay with an aim to go for the big hits later on in the innings. For India, this approach meant that they often had wickets in hand at the halfway stage as they pressed on the gas pedal in the final 10 overs. Though it is a risk-free approach as laid out by Rohit, it also meant that India ended up settling for a below-par total, having failed to capitalize on the powerplay overs. It meant India ended up losing games while choosing to go for safety upfront.
Before the 3rd T20I on Wednesday, India had lost 11 out of 26 matches where they batted first since the 2016 World T20. The corresponding figure when India were chasing a total is 6 losses out of 25 games played. Clearly, India were missing a point here. This is when the last few words from Rohit’s above statement assumed high importance.
“We are prepared to take risks when it’s necessary”
Come Mumbai and a series-decider against a rampaging West Indies side who had just showcased their muscle power with an emphatic victory in Trivandrum, with their back against the wall, India were forced to jettison the risk-free approach and go full throttle on a belter of a pitch. Remember, West Indies famously chased India’s 192/2 at the same ground in the semi-final of the 2016 World T20, sending the hosts crashing out of the tournament.
On the 2nd ball of the innings, pitched full and wide of off-stump, Rohit Sharma went for a lofted shot over covers, never intending to keep it down. Next over, the intent was pretty clear as KL Rahul slammed Jason Holder for back-to-back boundaries. Even though Rohit and Rahul did have some trouble negotiating the early swing that Holder and Sheldon Cottrell were generating, what was important from India’s point of view was that the duo was completely unperturbed and kept playing their shots. Soon, Rohit brought up the 400th six of his international career and Rahul opened the floodgates by taking 14 runs off 3 balls from Kesrick Williams’ 1st 3 balls. A six-hitting spree followed as India walloped to 116 by the end of the 10th over.
When Rohit fell trying to go for another six, Rishabh Pant walk out to bat instead of the usual No.3 Virat Kohli. The experiment was reminiscent of Kohli sending Shivam Dube at No.3 in Trivandrum when the all-rounder ended up scoring a breathtaking fifty. However, in Mumbai, the Pant gamble didn’t pay off as the left-hander was out for a 2nd ball duck while trying to bludgeon Kieron Pollard into oblivion.
At this stage, while Indian T20I teams of recent times would have gone for some consolidation, the incoming batsman Kohli soon reminded everyone that India were finally waking up to the realities of T20 cricket of this day and age. Or as Rohit had said before the match, India were playing ‘smart cricket’.
“At the end of the day, you want to play smart cricket. And that’s how we beat the opposition, by playing smart cricket. We believe in that. Sometimes it comes off and sometimes it doesn’t. But we like to back what we do as a team well, which is to play smart cricket. Whether it’s taking singles, or doubles, or going after the bowlers – that the situation will tell you,” said Rohit on Tuesday.
Off the 5th ball he faced, Kohli deposited spinner Hayden Walsh Jr. far over long-on to signal the ‘smart cricket’. 22 runs were milked off the 15th over by Rahul and Kohli, handing Jason Holder the unenviable figures of 4-0-54-0. Even though Williams was able to fox Rahul and Kohli with some well-disguised slower balls, the duo didn’t shy away from punishing the slightest of errors from the bowler. Pollard too wasn’t spared as Kohli hit 3 sixes and a 4 in the 19th over of the innings bowled by the captain to take India close to a mammoth total.
Byu the time the six-hitting mayhem by Kohli and Co. ended at Wankhede, India had hit 16 towering sixes while setting up their 3rd highest total in T20Is ever.
In reply, West Indies crumbled under the huge scoreboard pressure with Pollard (68) and Shimron Hetmyer (41) the only batsmen making significant contributions. West Indies could muster just 12 sixes – a reflection of how well India adapted in Mumbai to outnumber their muscle-fuelled opponents. It seemed that India had finally managed to do the unthinkable: beat West Indies at their own game!
“It’s a good lesson for us”
In the end, India won the match rather comfortably by 67 runs and extended India’s stellar record in 3-match bilateral T20I series deciders (9 wins out of 10). After winning the inaugural T20 World Cup, India have lately been beset by their conservative approach as they prepare for the next edition in Australia. But the series victory in Mumbai should give India and Kohli a lot of confidence going ahead.
“There’s one thing talking about getting a big score, but when you do it on the field you remember how you did it. Batting first, we’ve been too tight and hesitant in terms of should we go for it or not. But this pitch allowed us to play freely. It’s a good lesson for us and now we need to remember that,” Kohli told Star Sports at the post-match presentation ceremony.
Even though the grounds and pitches in Australia might not offer the Indian batsmen the same amount of comfort as the belter in Wankhede, the Mumbai template could still be India’s biggest T20 ‘lesson’ in recent years. Kohli and India will do well to ‘remember that’.