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Experiments and role clarity bring new answers to India's T20 questions

Rohit and Dravid have used the glut of T20Is this year to add depth to India's stocks ahead of the World Cup

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
The 21 T20 internationals India have played so far in 2022 are the most by any team. Managing workloads across formats has led to them fielding 27 players in the T20Is - the most by any team this year. In the recent five-match series in West Indies alone, 17 players were given an opportunity.
Now, with the Asia Cup approaching, the mixing and matching is likely to taper off, as India look to give their first XI a decent run of games in the lead-up to the T20 World Cup in Australia this October.
But in these last few months, the team management led by head coach Rahul Dravid has used the multitude of games to try players out in different roles - to flex their flexibility. There have been multiple captains too - from Rohit Sharma to Hardik Pandya to Rishabh Pant - but India have not wavered from their new aggressive approach. And because of the changing personnel, the team management has placed strong emphasis on clarity of communication.
"We made it very clear after the T20 World Cup in Dubai where we didn't qualify that there needs to be a change in attitude and approach to how we play," Rohit Sharma told Star Sports recently. "A clear message was given to the boys, and they were ready to accept the challenge … If the messages are clear from the captain and coach and where the team is trying to head, individuals will try and do it. For that, they need freedom and clarity, which we're trying to give."
So as India have gone about transforming their T20 game in the last few months, here are some key discoveries they have made along the way.

New opening options

Suryakumar Yadav and Rishabh Pant are two of seven openers India have used this year. Pant was given a run at the top during the T20Is in England last month, and Suryakumar opened in the recent series against West Indies. While the decision to open with them was largely meant to give Pant and Suryakumar more time in the middle, it has led to India creating more space and depth in their 15-man squad for the Asia Cup, and possibly the T20 World Cup.
Both Suryakumar and Pant could serve as back-up opening options should the need arise to find a replacement for Rohit or KL Rahul, who hasn't played any matches since the IPL ended. In four innings as opener, Suryakumar made 135 runs at a strike rate of 168.75. His best was a 44-ball 76 in St Kitts. Pant, meanwhile, is the only left-hand option in the top six.
Having two middle-order batters who can open may have led to Deepak Hooda's inclusion in the Asia Cup squad ahead of Ishan Kishan, who had earlier been tried as reserve opener. And Hooda offers India plenty of flexibility in the batting order. In seven T20Is so far, he's scored 274 runs at a strike rate of 161, batting at various positions from No. 1 to 7. Hooda also brings his offspin to India's bowling attack.
Like Hooda, Hardik's return from injury has also given India plenty of flexibility. He has batted at every position from No. 3 to No. 7 over the past two months, and can play the role of finisher if the team management decides to pick Pant over Dinesh Karthik in the XI.
What they said
"We want the guys to be able to bat anywhere and don't want them to be batting in specific positions. We want the guys to be flexible, there are two ways to look at it depending on certain players."
Rohit on what he expects from his batters

Strengthening the pace stocks

In the second T20I in St Kitts, with West Indies needing ten off the final over, Rohit chose to give the ball to the inexperienced Avesh Khan ahead of his veteran death-overs expert Bhuvneshwar Kumar, to give Avesh a taste of bowling in a high-pressure situation in international cricket. The move did not pay off immediately - Avesh bowled a front-foot no-ball first up - and India lost. In the next game, he bowled three overs - one in the powerplay, one at the death - and went for 47 runs.
In the fourth game in Florida, Avesh gave India the returns they were looking for - two wickets in the powerplay and conceding just 17 runs in four overs - and he credited the team management for backing him despite two poor games.
While Avesh made it to India's Asia Cup squad possibly only because Jasprit Bumrah and Harshal Patel were injured, Arshdeep Singh is making a strong case for a place in the starting XI. And to think he made his T20I debut only in the first week of July.
Arshdeep's ability to move the new ball both ways has given India a new option in the powerplay while Deepak Chahar makes his way back from injury, but what really sets him apart is the fact that he is the only left-arm pacer in India's ranks at the moment, and his knack of nailing yorkers at the death.
Since IPL 2021, Arshdeep's economy rate in the death overs is 8.50, the second-best after Bumrah among 22 bowlers who have bowled at least 15 overs. In this year's IPL, Arshdeep's death-overs economy rate of 7.58 was second only to Bumrah's 7.38.
So while Arshdeep was primarily bowling in the powerplay and the death in the West Indies, Rohit bowled him in the middle overs once the series was won, just to see what he could offer in a different situation. With seven wickets and an economy rate of 6.58, Arshdeep won the Player-of-the-Series award.
What they said
"It's all about giving the opportunity to these guys. We know what Bhuvneshwar Kumar brings to the table for us. He's been doing it for so many years, but if you don't give opportunity to guys like Avesh, Arshdeep and all those guys, you will never find out what it is like to bowl in the death overs for India. They've been doing it well for the IPL franchises, but this is a different ball game. These are the games [where] you try and see how they respond to those [pressure] situations …"
Rohit on choosing Avesh to bowl the final over in the second T20I, ahead of Bhuvneshwar

A strong back-up for Jadeja

Axar Patel isn't in the 15-man squad for the Asia Cup - he's one of three stand-by players - but India know they have a strong back-up for Ravindra Jadeja, should they need it.
In the second ODI in the Caribbean, Axar smashed 64 off 35 balls while largely batting with the tail to help India ace a chase of 312. He didn't get too much time at the crease during the two T20Is he played thereafter, but he still showed his value with an unbeaten 20 off just eight balls in the fourth T20I, lifting India past 190 after a middle-overs slowdown.
It's his bowling, however, that makes him a particularly valuable part of India's T20I set-up. From being a one-dimensional left-arm spinner who focused exclusively on economy, Axar has evolved into a skillful bowler who varies his pace and angles. In the final match of the T20I series in the West Indies, stand-in captain Hardik gave Axar the first over for only the second time since March last year, and he ended up taking three wickets in the Powerplay, feasting against a makeshift and right-hander-dominated West Indies top order.
What they said
"I wanted to make sure I gave Axar the new ball and wanted him to get the confidence back and bowl dots. I knew the kind of bowler he is, when he bowls tight, he creates chances"
Hardik after the T20I series win

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo