October 5, 2012

Build India's T20 team around Kohli

They should start looking for young players who will serve them well in the next World Twenty20

When, as the owner of the world's most lucrative league, your team fails to make the semi-final of the World Twenty20 three times in a row, it is not merely time to berate or to ignore. It is time to worry, to analyse and to plan. In that order. Not everyone can be proactive but it would be criminal not to be reactive either.

The one great joy, for me, from this World Twenty20, is that bowlers are back. As the more exploited species, they have had to be inventive, and while the conditions may have had much to do with it, it was the spinners who led the way. We knew about Saeed Ajmal and Sunil Narine, but little Akila Dananjaya emerged, and I was particularly impressed with Pakistan's Raza Hasan, who seemed unfazed when thrown the ball at big moments. Meanwhile Dale Steyn and Lasith Malinga continued to lead their attacks, Steven Finn and Umar Gul continued to look good, and Australia have every reason to be excited by Mitchell Starc.

There isn't an Indian in that list. While you could say that India bowled out the opposition in four games out of five, there wasn't a bowler in their ranks the opposition would secretly fear facing. And when 11 players were on the field, there wasn't one in the dugout the Indian captain would wish was out there with him.

Worse, if the captain looked at scoresheets of matches played in India, he wouldn't find someone there who could legitimately be hopping mad at being left out. I really hope Dhoni didn't take a look at the scores from the Challenger Trophy, a tournament that in any case has no need to exist. In four matches you had 356, 328, 307, 335 and 331 scored. Three individual 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. 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 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 Singh deserved another game but that's it really.

India's batting should have instilled fear in the opposition. I am not sure it did. Experience wasn't an issue. In fact, apart from Virat Kohli, the entire batting unit is from the pre-IPL era. I wonder 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 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 who are desperate to make a mark. They must ideally outnumber those 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 so few T20 internationals that you can actually give players a break and let a busy young group of people feel their way and make a statement. The next World Twenty20 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, players who are hungry, who are different, and who, more than anything else, are livewires in the field. Perhaps players like Naman Ojha, Ashok Menaria, Ambati Rayudu (who isn't the youngest but is hungry) and Stuart Binny. Certainly Ajinkya Rahane. It will also force people to search for bowlers who are different.

The IPL should have thrown up a few by now, but really, apart from R Ashwin and to some extent Ravindra Jadeja, not many have emerged from there. Or maybe there aren't any 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 be aware 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 are perfect to launch a search for freshness.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • san on October 8, 2012, 13:42 GMT

    I agree that some new youngsters should be given chance. But completely disagree with harsha regarding kohli. I watched india vs pak ball by ball and the truth is kohli was scoring runs for himself instead of improving the run-rate. There were several matches dhoni and raina have sacrificed their wickets for improving run-rate in their 40's. Kohli just want to get name for himself and not for team. Harsha - please watch the match, not the scores. Instead of rohit sharma another youngster should have been given chance. But the mumbai board won't allow it. If u ask about bowlers, who ever didn't pick umesh yadav should answer. Commentators are trying to build heroism for kohli. We don't need another tendulkar with good statistics. We need india to perform well in Test and ODI then T20 wins will follow on its own.

  • Rakesh on October 8, 2012, 13:41 GMT

    @spinkingKK - liked ur jab at SRT. Funny.

  • Sridhar on October 8, 2012, 13:24 GMT

    I sometimes wonder why established columnists like Harsha Bhogle beat around the bush instead of going straight to the point. There is no more time to waste - we need to immediately go in for a massive clean up and start building for future. Hand over the Captaincy to Virat Kohli - he probably is the only one with both the competence and age on his side. Give him a team that has an average age of 22-24!!!. Players like Ashwin will need to get very fit if they want to retain their spots in the team - and no player should stand a chance of selection if he does not play the domestic season. The trouble with the current lot is that they are almost assured of their selection - based on past performances alone and with no relevance to their current form!!! The first and probably the ony departure was with Harbhajan - and it did not seem to impact the overall team performance highly, proving that he was very dispensable but no body wanted to 'dispense' with him!!!

  • Adil on October 8, 2012, 7:27 GMT

    to all the indians who think that bowling out a team proves their bowler's worth..you should see the economy rates of your bowlers as well..teams were bowled out not becoz of good bowling from indian bowlers. they got out bcoz they took indian bowlers from collars and tried to overhit them..every team they bowled was bowled out in 20 overs and in more than 140 plus runs..that means it was not good bowling it was all about rash and extra hitting...

  • Cricket on October 7, 2012, 18:52 GMT

    contd if you take for example sehwag he's picked when he's in form and he's picked when he's not in form. where are the other openers? if india doesn't have other destructive openers like gayle dilshan watson warner etc better to give other players a chance so the success or failure of a team is not dependant on player. generally a one player team is an indication of the weakness in the batting and bowling of that team and to be fair that's probably true with india right now. i think the solution lies in identifying and addressing the weaknesses rather than building the entire team or squad around one player.

  • Cricket on October 7, 2012, 18:44 GMT

    @Nampally maybe a there is a central player in each match winning performance but if you look at the wi tonight where gayle got out cheaply they needed contributions from samuels and sammy with the bat and ball and narine with the ball. india's rise to the top in tests included the fab four with the bat and zaheer and kumble with the ball. aus had warne and mcgrath and hayden ponting gilchrist and a strong support from everyone else. eng until they lost no 1 in tests had cook trott pieterson bell and their 4 bowlers. when they won the t20 4 years ago the had contributions throughout the team although i accept pieterson was clearly the standout player. india's position is different because like brazil in football there are many technically gifted players and should build a team around a core of group of players. but to do this that group must be given chances to play, to make mistakes and learn from their mistakes.

  • roshan on October 7, 2012, 18:14 GMT

    i prefer yuvraj as captain. murali vijay and sunny singh should open indian team for 20-20. so murali vijay, sunny singh, virat kohli, suresh raina, rohit sharma, yuvraj,jalaj saxena/bhuvanesh kumar/ surya kumar yadav, robin uttappa, aswin, ravindra jadeja,vinay kumar/ praveen kumar. one fine fast bowlers of speed and accuracy like deepak chahar/ varun aron/ ishant sharma/rithuraj singh/ murtuja vohra/ pawan zuyal/ sudeep tyagi/ pankaj singh/ shami ahmed/ prashant parameswrarn/ harshal patel. we should also given oppotunity to manish pandey he is a great hitter of the ball.

  • roshan on October 7, 2012, 17:24 GMT

    harsha you are right in some way but there are exception to this. I felt like kohli is not matured much it may take atleast 2 to 3 years for him. Yuvraj is the great option as a captain he is an excellent player with great records. we need to rest him for atleast 6 months. yuvraj should become the captain. suresh raina the vice captain. we need to bring fine alrounders like sarul kanwar, sunny singh, jalaj saxena, surya kumar yadav,bhuvanesh kumar, kaustubh pawar, murtuja vohra, manish pandey. sunny singh, jalaj saxena, bhuvanesh kumar are wicket taking fast bowlers and they can score centuries and can also hit sixes at will. unmukt and baba aparajith have to show their strengths at first class level. vinay kumar and praveen kumar should come back to indian side they were the wicket taking bowlers. we need to try rithuraj singh, deepak chahar, murtuja vohra, makana, shami ahmed, prashant parameswaran, harshal patel, pankaj singh and sudeep tyagi as fast bowlers

  • Jay on October 7, 2012, 13:40 GMT

    Harsha says: "Bowlers are back" ... "There isn't an Indian in that list"! Why? Because his hand-picked list is off base. He states: "Umar Gul continued to look good"! Really? Check the facts in the official WC list of leading wicket-takers. Fact: Gul is dead last among 40+ bowlers in the official list: he took a mere 3 wkts @ 56.00-run avg in 6 matches. Compare with Balaji who is the 4th best (!): 9 wkts @ 9.77-run avg in just 4 matches. And Yuvraj is 6th best (!): 8 wkts @ 10.12-run avg in 5 matches. Even Harbhajan looked better: 4 wkts @ 8.00-run avg (lowest of all!) in 2 games. Truth: The Indian bowlers did well as a unit, except in the Oz match. But that loss wouldn't have mattered. Because of one capricious event that turned fortunes around: Gul did more damage as batsman than as bowler! His one-off 32 runs versus SA eventually sealed the semi-final spot for Pak! And India lost out! Yes, bowling is its Achilles' heel. But not in this WC. Don't need a lawyer to prove it, Harsha!

  • Jay on October 7, 2012, 12:12 GMT

    Harsha - "Building a young squad around Kohli" is not a good idea. Recall how it took a solid core group - Ganguly, Tendulkar, Dravid, Kumble - to propel Team India's ascendancy to the top. It's a team sport after all! Also the popular notion that "T20 is a young man's game" is a MYTH! Evidence: The WC semi-finalists - WI, Oz, SL & Pak - have a combined 11 starters under age 25, compared to 19 players 30 & over, with the remaining 14 in the 25-29 age bracket. Good teams have an optimal mix of experience & youth, with a few key mature stars making up the core group. Look at SL with a core of Mahela (age 35), Dilshan (36), Sanga (35) & Malinga (29). Also WI with Gayle (33), Samuels (31), Bravo (29) & Sammy (28). Strangely Harsha's "young squad" is not quite spring chicken: By the next WC in 2014, 3 of his 5 nominees will be around 30 - N Ojha, Binny & Rayudu. Most important, where are the bowling prospects? Building a match-winning bowling squad is India's topmost priority, Harsha!

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