India entered the 2021 T20 World Cup as one of the favourites but failed to make the semi-finals thanks to a combination of a flawed team and poor luck. The next T20 World Cup gets underway in less than a year, in Australia, and India will have a new captain and a new coach. Here is a roadmap of sorts for what they need to do to be strong contenders at the next World Cup.
Role clarity and security
T20 cricket can look simple if players are given clear roles and are allowed to perform those roles - repeatedly - without the fear of failure. Kieron Pollard did not become one of the world's best finishers overnight. He got there by performing the same task repeatedly across conditions and situations.
To believe that one can defend ten runs from the last over or score 30 runs in the last two overs requires a player to have performed that role repeatedly. If a player has been selected to maximise the powerplay, or be a defensive bowler, or bowl yorker after yorker in the death, he needs to fail in that role for ten-odd matches before being axed.
The new decision-makers in Indian cricket need to provide that space to the players. The management needs to identify the right players and their back-ups, define the roles well, and stick to that plan till the end of the World Cup.
Contextualise IPL performances
The IPL is a great place for young cricketers to show what they are capable of, especially under pressure. But, if somebody does well as an opener in the IPL, it does not necessarily follow that he will do well in the middle order in international cricket. Numbers in the IPL should not be the sole criteria for selection to the national team. The roles they play, the conditions, and the quality of opposition vary. If a player performs the same role for both his IPL team and the national team, his chances of success are much higher. It is also a good idea to give talented young cricketers a second year in the IPL to see how they cope against better plans by the opposition, which they will no doubt face in international cricket.
Study conditions and trends in advance
Unlike Test series or ODI World Cups, the T20 World Cup does not offer one too many opportunities to come back after a loss. And the packed international calendar does not have room for too many days to get ready specifically for a World Cup either. While a lot of non-Indian players get to play in T20 leagues across the world, Indian players play only in the IPL (apart from domestic tournaments, like the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy). As a result, the conditions can surprise them during a World Cup.
This is a bit left field, but to avoid such challenges, the management could look to send scouts and analysts to study the conditions in Australia this summer during the Big Bash League and international fixtures, and understand the specific skills required to succeed. This information could prove to be valuable in terms of team selection and readiness for the big tournament.
Respect the bubble and workload
Outgoing coach Ravi Shastri has said that bubble fatigue was one of the main reasons India didn't turn up for the two big matches at the World Cup.
Needless to say, bubble fatigue is a big challenge that the board needs to handle smartly. The schedule for the next two years is known. Now the stakeholders need to sit and chalk out who plays what - there must be rotation. As such, all the key players must be available for the IPL and the Test tours, but India need to find a way to rotate them so that everyone is fresh come the World Cup. The BCCI needs to ensure enough compensation and security for players who are rested.
Give the format its due
A five-year gap between the last two World Cups - plus Covid-19-related issues - made it difficult for teams to plan for this one in advance, but they can start preparing for the next one immediately. In India's case, this starts from November 17 against New Zealand in Jaipur.
India could go the England way by looking at resting multi-format players from Tests and ODIs and play them only in the T20Is, or they could look to go the West Indies way, playing two different teams for red-ball and white-ball games. Both have their merits and demerits, and it is up to Rahul Dravid, the new captain, and the selectors to decide on the approach.
India's toughest Test assignments in the next 12 months are the matches in South Africa and the final game in England. This means they can focus strongly on the World Cup.