Safety-first approach once again in T20I team selection

By Express News Service

CHENNAI: Despite all the talent that the IPL throws up season after season, India has been reluctant to buy that approach with the national side. For starters, they have been a top-heavy side, relying heavily on players who play a more conservative role than a more adventurous, aggressive role.

As the national selection committee picked the squad for the upcoming T20Is against South Africa on Sunday, despite their decision to rest (purely an assumption since the press release doesn’t mention they are dropped) Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli, they have largely stuck to the conservative approach.

Resting key players gives an opportunity for the selectors and the team management to try other options, especially players who would offer a different style of play. In Prithvi Shaw, Sanju Samson and Rahul Tripathi, India does have such options. What they have picked are more or less like-for-like replacements for Rohit, Kohli and the injured Suryakumar Yadav.

At the last World Cup, where India made a group stage exit, they were guilty of paying the price for a conservative approach and for making batters play a different role from what they do with their respective franchises. Ahead of this year’s edition, the same seems to be unfolding. While franchise teams don’t really have more than one anchor batter in their XI, if one purely goes by their IPL roles, India has three in Rohit, Rahul and Kohli. For the South Africa series, they have Rahul, Ruturaj Gaikwad and Shreyas Iyer.

This is why trying Shaw, and continuing with Samson and handing an opportunity to Tripathi would have at least helped them know what these players can offer.

Given there is no dearth of talent when it comes to specialist T20 batters, there is a strong argument to pick a separate team for the format, resembling a franchise model. MSK Prasad, the former chairman of selectors, believes it is only a matter of time before it happens. “With the kind of talent we have with the passing of each IPL season, we are heading towards it. Except for a core group of players, who can be fitted in all three formats, we should be moving in that direction of different teams for different formats. We are having back-to-back World Cups. We don’t have much time between these two World Cups. Maybe this is why we might not disturb the core team. We have little time to move around and completely overhaul the team. I see this happening after this T20 World Cup,” Prasad told this daily.

Although in Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya, India does have power-hitters, the approach of playing safely at the top, has often left them with very little time or puts them in a position where their margin of failure is less. While Rahul has in the past played a different role – that of a more free-flowing batter in the national side thanks to the presence of Rohit and Kohli at the top – India still has two batters who prefer to bat the distance in the T20s. “In franchise cricket, you will have one or two players playing that role and the others will be revolving around them. Roles keep changing according to the level of cricket they are playing. Their roles for their franchise and in the national team may be totally different. Since these guys are capable of adapting, the selectors would have picked them,” Prasad said.

Six months ahead of the T20 World Cup, the same issues that contributed to India’s early exit last year still remain. Maybe the squad that plays England and West Indies in the next couple of months would indicate where they stand.

(Star Sports is the official broadcaster of India vs SA T20 series).

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