Two days before the T20I series opener against West Indies in Hyderabad, allrounder Shivam Dube sounded out a warning to West Indies and asked the press and public to not worry about his form. The 26-year-old didn't have too much to do in Hyderabad, but in the second match in Thiruvananthapuram, he walked the talk and even had his India and Royal Challengers Bangalore captain Virat Kohli excited at the other end.
The start, however, wasn't too rosy for Dube, with the ball not coming on and the left-hand batsman not finding his range. But there was a genuine sign of India breaking away from their safety-first approach.
In September, in a T20I series decider against South Africa in Bengaluru, Kohli became the first captain to decide against chasing at the venue in T20Is and challenged his side to step out of their comfort zone.
Shikhar Dhawan opted to take more risks at the top in that match, but India ended with an underwhelming total, having aimed too high. The experiment tore open the portal to the 2000s, when Rahul Dravid had challenged India to improve their chasing record by opting to bowl first in ODIs whenever he won the toss.
On Sunday, India tried another experiment by bumping up Dube to No. 3 on a slow, dry pitch. This, after KL Rahul had holed out for a run-a-ball 11. The capacity crowd waited in anticipation of Kohli's entry, but Dube walked out instead windmilling his arms. This was also the first time that he was batting at No. 3 in his professional career.
"This ground is big but I've the capability to clear any ground. You might have seen today also, and that's the capability I have" Shivam Dube
Left-arm fingerspinner Khary Pierre had just removed Rahul and was finding substantial turn with the new ball. At the other end, Jason Holder was bowling a tidy spell and drew a top-edge when Dube threw his hands at a roundhouse swipe across the line. West Indies captain Kieron Pollard then introduced himself into the attack and exploited the grippy track with a variety of cutters and rollers. Dube kept throwing his hands at the ball and kept falling over.
Having struggled to 12 off 14 balls, Dube was feeling the pressure. However, he released all of that by backing his strengths: sitting back and clearing the long leg-side boundary. When Holder banged a chest-high short ball, Dube went deeper in the crease and pulled it over square leg for six. The next ball, a full delivery, was stylishly shovelled away between deep midwicket and wide long-on.
Pollard's pace - or the lack of it - soon became too predictable, and Dube clubbed him for three sixes off three legal balls in the ninth over. The pick of them being the second pull off a 112kph cutter that soared over the midwicket boundary and had Kohli punching his fist in the air.
"I think this ground is big but I've the capability to clear any ground," Dube later said at the post-match press conference. "You might have seen today also, and that's the capability I have."
In the next over, Dube raised his maiden international fifty off 27 balls and put a little smile on his coach Ravi Shastri's face in the dugout. From 12 off 14 balls, he had hit his way out of trouble and later credited Rohit Sharma for helping him break out of the early funk.
"I was under a bit [of] pressure I think," Dube said. "I just backed myself and Rohit bhai told me, 'Don't worry and just back your strengths'. That's what you need [from] a senior and that helped motivate me. And he did that and I showed my innings. I think that [hitting the ball] is my strength and I always go like that only."
Dube was reprieved on 50 at long-on, where Pollard lost the ball under lights, but two balls later, he spliced a wrong'un from Hayden Walsh Jr. to extra cover. The lower-middle order couldn't launch from the platform Dube had set them, but such a flexible approach indicates that India are adapting to the changing T20 landscape. Further proof of that is India's batting depth - they have had Bhuvneshwar Kumar listed at No. 10 in this series so far.
Kohli has also promised a similar flexible approach when it comes to India's bowling attack. Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, the two wristspinners, haven't played together after the Edgbaston nightmare. However, on the eve of the series opener against West Indies, the India captain reasoned that it would be difficult for the opposition to hit the two wristspinners for sixes on the bigger grounds in Australia.
The past two experiments haven't yielded the results that India have been looking for, but they may have helped them understand the pulse of T20 cricket better.