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The one great joy to me from this World T20 was that the bowlers are back. As the more exploited species, they have had to be more inventive and while the conditions may have had much to do with it, it was the spinners that led the way. We knew about Saeed Ajmal and Sunil Narine but a little Akila Dananjaya emerged and I was particularly impressed with Raza Hasan of Pakistan who was thrown the ball at big moments and seemed unfazed. Meanwhile Dale Steyn and Lasith Malinga continued to lead their attacks, Steven Finn and Umar Gul continued to look good and Australia can be very excited by Mitchell Starc.
There isn't an Indian in that list. While you could say that India bowled out the opposition in 4 games out of 5, there wasn't a bowler there the opposition would secretly fear facing. And when eleven players were on the field, there wasn't one in the dug-out the captain would wish was out there with him. Worse, if the captain looked at score-sheets of matches played in India he wouldn't find someone there who could be hopping mad at being left out.
And I really wish he didn't take a look at the scores from the Challenger, a tournament that in any case has no need to exist. In four matches you had 356, 328, 307, 335 and 331 scored. Three innings of over 150 were played. You didn't have to be in Rajkot to understand that the bowlers didn't have a lawyer pleading their case in the batsman's tribunal. Another season has started and the message going out to bowlers is: strap on those pads and see if you have a future. What those scores also make abundantly clear is that batsmen weren't threatened. When you bully bowlers you kill their self-esteem but you don't become a better batsman either; you merely have big numbers against your name.
India played five bowlers in a game and got murdered; and Dhoni probably thought it doesn't really matter if I am increasing the numbers but not getting a better attack. The point about the rain against Australia was valid but it cannot mask a greater truth. There were people on that bench that the captain wasn't excited about. You always judge a team by the strength of its bench and there wasn't a bowler there who was forcing the captain to pick him. Maybe, Harbhajan deserved another game but that's really it.
It was India's batting that should have instilled fear and I am not sure it did. Experience wasn't an issue, in fact apart from Virat Kohli, the entire batting unit is from a pre-IPL era, it has been around for a long time. I just wonder though if India's cricketers, including the captain, aren't jaded. Sometimes you aren't physically tired just lacklustre, the desire dulls, you aren't as excited about being on the park. I looked at Virat Kohli and I saw optimism, fire, cockiness, disappointment, pain...everything was on display and that is not something you can do for the cameras. Kohli was the kid who just wanted to be there. It could be because he was in form, because that is his personality, whatever. And that is why teams must always have enough people desperate to make a mark, they must ideally outnumber those are anxious to keep their place.
That is why I wonder if it may not be a bad idea to start building a young squad around Kohli. There are such few T20 internationals that you can actually give people a break and let a busy young group of people feel their way and make a statement. The next World T20 isn't for another two years and at least four or five from this team aren't going to be there. It might be a good time to try out a young lot, search for players who are hungry, who are different and who, more than anything else, are livewires on the field. Maybe look for a Naman Ojha, a Menaria, a Rayudu (who isn't the youngest but is hungry), a Binny maybe. Certainly a Rahane. It will also force people to search for bowlers who are different.
The IPL should have thrown a few by now. Really, apart from Ashwin and, to some extent, Jadeja, there hasn't been much emerging from there. Or maybe they just aren't there because the standard of Indian players in the IPL isn't good enough. You need a minimum of 80 Indian players and there aren't that many in India. Inevitably, therefore, India will become a condition specific bowling unit, only capable of winning if the pitch is a steadfast friend. There will now be four test matches on tracks made for India's spinners. You must seek to win at home but must be careful that that is not the only way you can win.
The new selectors have a test team to pick and that won't be a difficult exercise. But I will be waiting to see a new direction in the team they select for the two T20 games against England. The schedule and the timing is perfect to launch a search for freshness..