Shashwat Kumar was in Mumbai as India threw caution to the wind, stumbled a couple of times and yet, were vindicated in the end, winning against Sri Lanka by two runs.
A couple of months ago at the Adelaide Oval, England told India how far the latter were from cracking the T20I code. India huffed, puffed, rode on Hardik Pandya’s brilliance and managed to put up what seemed a par total, only for Alex Hales and Jos Buttler to raze down the target without breaking a sweat.
That defeat, apart from sending India crashing out, opened up a can of worms around their batting approach. The cautious batting approach for about the first three-quarters of their batting innings stuck out like a sore thumb – especially after their rapid batting inside the powerplay throughout the year.
This series against Sri Lanka, with Hardik Pandya at the helm, is more than the usual bilateral series. It is a chance for several cricketers to stake their T20I claim before attention turns to the ODI World Cup later in the year, and for India to adapt to a more aggressive batting approach.
India began well, with Ishan Kishan smashing Kasun Rajitha for two fours and a six in the first over. Then their resolve was tested. Shubman Gill perished having a hack across the line to Maheesh Theekshana; Suryakumar Yadav, for once, mistimed a scoop; and Sanju Samson swung wildly, getting caught at short third man.
So, when Pandya walked out to the middle, he had a decision to make. He could have dropped anchor and retreated into his shell – a role he has adapted before, for the Gujarat Titans. But he did not. He struck a couple of gorgeous boundaries and signalled his intention to dominate.
The surface meant that he could not carry on, but Pandya had made one thing clear: India wanted to force Sri Lanka into errors. Deepak Hooda did that to the tee off in the 16th over. Trying to stay a step ahead, Theekshana dragged down a delivery, but Hooda punished him over deep mid-wicket. A ball later, Hooda sprung onto the front foot and whipped another six over the same region.
Hasaranga was also deposited over deep mid-wicket in the next over off a short ball that came about because he was circumspect to pitch up to Hooda. At this stage, India were five down, and had a longish tail. That did not deter them.
As the game progressed, it became clear that 162 was perhaps just above par, especially on a track that gripped. That score, though, was only possible because India stopped hitting. Had they stuttered and stumbled their way to 150, which looked a par total, Sri Lanka might not have felt the pinch as much.
It is also imperative that India understand that this brand of cricket will come at the cost of consistency. This approach, while riskier, is likelier to succeed, especially against the best teams in the world. There will be the off day, but when it comes off, India will be among the most belligerent batting units on the planet.
That is what they seek to achieve. It is also what England were and India were not on that fated day in Adelaide.
Along the way, they will encounter tricky terrains – like they did last night. What they must not forget, however, is that this is how Twenty20 has to be played. In a game of 20 overs, teams run out of balls more often than wickets.
India have hinted that they are moving in this direction, and that is what all the best T20 teams in the world have been doing for a while. The odd defeat, let alone the odd collapse, need not deter them from the approach.
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