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India need a white-ball philosophy that doesn't revolve around their best batters

They do not have a distinct and well-defined approach, like England have, and that has hurt them

Aakash Chopra
Aakash Chopra
India's top three have lots of freedom, but the batters below them have their work cut out  •  AFP/Getty Images

India's top three have lots of freedom, but the batters below them have their work cut out  •  AFP/Getty Images

Every team has a certain way of playing in the white-ball format. England go really hard from the get-go and just keep going. Australia are reasonably explosive all through, building towards a late flourish. New Zealand go steady almost throughout the innings, and back their players to do the little things right almost every time.
These playing strategies are dependent on the kind of batters and bowlers you have, the pitch, and other playing conditions. If you have a gun bowling attack, you don't aim too high with the bat. If you have more batting resources, you bat deeper and compromise on attacking bowling options. That last model pretty much defines the path England have taken. So they are almost obliged to score a few above par all the time. That's the price you pay if you pick bowlers on the basis of how well they can bat.
West Indies, on the other hand, are a team of big strikers, who bank on individual brilliance to see them through. If they fail, they come up with performances well below par, like in the recently concluded T20 World Cup.
What is India's template in white-ball cricket? Since they are a fairly successful and high-profile team, it's only fair to assume they have a well-thought-out plan in place. Let's try and decode the plan, and then try to figure out why ICC titles have eluded India for nine years.
For the last six or seven years, India have had the world's best Nos. 1-3, in Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli and KL Rahul. The three from among these four who make up the top three in any given playing XI not only set the stage, they also finish a lot of games for India in both T20 and 50-over formats. During this period, India's bowling has been quite diverse, with at least three or four wicket-taking bowlers who were picked to bowl and take wickets, and not partly - or at all - for their run-scoring abilities.
While this worked pretty well at times, there has been an obvious lack of focus on the batters following the top three, and the days India found themselves 40-odd for 3, they struggled to get to safety. Incidentally, most of India's knockout matches in ICC tournaments tell the same story - two of the top three (if not all three) fail to score big and India end up with a below-par score or fail to chase a par score.
One could either view this as misfortune and move on or try to create a team - and with it a philosophy - that does not hinge on the success or failure of the top three. Rohit Sharma, in his first press conference as full-time captain, stressed this point.
Let's look closer at India's bowling resources in white-ball cricket. Jasprit Bumrah was world-class and still is the same threat to opposition line-ups that he used to be. However, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Bumrah's trusted ally for the longest time, has fallen off the radar. The spin of Yuzvendra Chahal is not getting the trust it used to from the team management or the same kind of success on the field in the absence of another wicket-taker at the other end.
In short, an attack that had three or four wicket-taking bowlers has been reduced to something like one and a half or two wicket-takers most days now. Before you tell me that India are still picking up a lot of wickets, let's acknowledge that it's inevitable for wickets to fall in every limited-overs innings. Let's not fool ourselves into believing that the majority of the wickets India take are because of magic balls or because of how the Indian bowlers choked the opposition for runs for extended periods of time. India have not been taking wickets with the new ball and that is allowing the game to drift in the middle overs.
In the middle overs of games against the top eight ODI teams since the 2019 World Cup, India's bowling average is staggeringly poor - 42.6. If you look at spin bowlers alone in the middle overs, India are third worst, behind Netherlands and Zimbabwe.
Is a radical change imminent in terms of a shuffle of personnel or a different approach? I strongly feel India have not created a team philosophy in the batting department. It's a team of alpha males, who were allowed - seemingly with reason, at the time - to play the way they wanted to play. The same is not true for the batters assigned to bat at Nos. 4-6; they always need to play the situation.
The quality and range of batting skill on offer should have liberated the team from its self-imposed shackles but that didn't happen with the Indian white-ball team. Big individual scores not only papered over the cracks in the lower middle order, they also didn't afford those lower-middle-order batters enough opportunities to flourish.
England changed their brand of white-ball cricket by having a complete buy-in from the team, and even though Jos Buttler is arguably the best white-ball batter in the world, he isn't the most important player in the England side; he is a part of the whole. Once a team is unwaveringly committed to a particular style, where the rules are not radically different for every member of the line-up, there's little scope for it to be affected by the importance of the game. Every game is to be played in the same fashion, irrespective of whether it is a league game or a knockout.
A decade is a long time, and it's about time India changed with the times. The Indian batting unit must start following a philosophy that doesn't revolve around the best batters in the team. That will make the team immune from the importance of the match.
As for the bowling, India must, once again, invest in wicket-takers for an extended period of time. Such bowlers are susceptible to conceding a lot of runs from time to time but that must never be held against them on a match-to-match basis. One bad game for Kuldeep Yadav in Birmingham put him in cold storage for two years, more or less. These bowlers need faith to prosper and that faith has to be absolute. The attempt isn't to clone England's formula, but it would be wise for India to build their philosophy along the same lines.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of four books, the latest of which is The Insider: Decoding the Craft of Cricket. @cricketaakash