DUBAI: Four years ago, when he stood in for regular captain Virat Kohli in the 50-over Asia Cup here in the UAE, Rohit Sharma had claimed that the constant chopping and changing in the middle order was not going to help India’s cause in the lead-up to the 2019 World Cup.
It’s ironic that now, when he is the regular all-format captain and the T20 World Cup is just under two months away, the team management seems reluctant to settle down on a combination. The constant shuffling of players has hurt India, especially in this Asia Cup. ‘Rotation’, ‘rest’ and ‘resource pool’ have been the buzzwords in this Indian team over the last eight months. One may argue India lost Ravindra Jadeja to injury and were missing Jasprit Bumrah in the game against Sri Lanka on Tuesday night. The fact remains, however, that the team has played musical chairs with the middle order and the bowling attack.
“There will be a time when we will draw a line and say, ‘this is the combination we want to play for the World Cup.’ After this, we have two more series and then the World Cup. Till our squad is announced, we can try out a few players,” Rohit said, staying firm on his strategy after back-to-back defeats to Pakistan and Lanka. The team management had identified players and assigned series to them in February itself. It was a conservative approach given the sheer volume of cricket the Indian players were scheduled to play throughout the year.
“When you talk about experiments, we wanted to try out certain things. If you look at the combination we have been playing before the start of the Asia Cup, it was with four seamers, two spinners. The second spinner was an all-rounder. I always wanted to try and find answers to what happens if you play with three seamers and two spinners, with a third spinner being an all-rounder,” he said.
The combinations with the bowlers clearly haven’t clicked yet. It’s apparent that there’s an over-reliance on Bumrah. Depending on Hardik Pandya as a frontline seamer too was a dodgy call. Head coach Rahul Dravid and Rohit have taken a cautious approach towards preserving players for the upcoming World Cup. According to Rohit, the team management wants to keep challenging itself. In a way, the team is trying to pre-empt various situations. This seems to be contradicting coach Dravid’s assertion that the team was solely focused on playing the given conditions in the Asia Cup.
“I want to be prepared for the World Cup, where you are challenged as a team. When you go to the World Cup, you want to have all the answers. These defeats teach us a whole lot of things,” Rohit said as he went on to concede: “There are a lot of questions we need to answer, and along the way, in the three-four series we’ve played, we have found some answers. It’s (the team) 90-95% settled, just a few changes that will happen.”
One of the more interesting points Sri Lanka’s well-articulated Bhanuka Rajapaksa made after defeating India on Tuesday was the importance of having the same bunch playing together for two years. “One must give credit to coaches and selectors who picked a bunch and played with them for a couple of years. Yes, there will be a couple of changes here and there but most players have stuck together. When you chop and change too much, there are trust issues in players,” he said of the resurgent Lankan team. Rajapaksa’s words were on the same lines Rohit had claimed four years ago here.
In the captain’s eyes, this Indian team may be close to being a settled unit but these defeats are bound to be unsettling for a bunch who are branded superstars of T20 cricket based on their IPL exploits. Yet, Rohit maintained the dressing room was unperturbed by the results. “You can go in the dressing room and see, all the boys are relaxed and chilled. We need to have such an atmosphere whether you win or lose.”
Virat Kohli stepped down as all-format captain because of India’s inability to win major ICC tournaments under him. Not much seems to have changed. The last two Asia Cup games have just exposed India’s vulnerabilities in multi-nation tournaments. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong. It looks like it from the outside, but we don’t look at it that way,” Rohit said.