Plenty of fire in batting now

Indian selectors, heeding to Shastri and Kohli’s demands, experimented with a youthful side for the T20I and ODI series against England
Last Updated 31 March 2021, 17:56 IST

Having come out on top in two heavyweight battles in a gruelling four-month period, it’s little wonder that the Indian cricket team has been showered with encomiums by all and sundry. Even the battered rivals — Australia and England lately — were forced to concede that they were outplayed and outsmarted by a better side.

A robust pace attack, bustling bench strength with 2-3 high-quality players for each position, and an overall never-say-die attitude and mental fortitude have been cited as reasons for one of the most successful periods in Indian cricket history.

But with the marquee T20 World Cup coming up later this year at home, what has made this Indian team early favourites is an explosive set of young batsmen confident of playing a brand of aggressive cricket skipper Virat Kohli and head coach Ravi Shastri have wanted for some time.

Indian selectors, heeding to Shastri and Kohli’s demands, experimented with a youthful side for the T20I and ODI series against England, and the result was a resounding success. The dashing Ishan Kishan and a highly-confident Suryakumar Yadav were handed debuts in the T20I series, and such has been the duo’s impact that the selectors will find it hard to ignore.

Kishan, diminutive but muscled, launched his international career in spectacular style when he cracked a 32-ball 56 to outgun a red-hot England pace attack. Suryakumar, a gifted Mumbai batsman who had to wait an eternity to don the India cap, showed a burgeoning hunger when he smashed pace ace Jofra Archer for a six off the first ball he faced in his international career.

If former players have demanded his selection into the national side for a while, it’s because of Suryakumar's remarkable consistency for Mumbai Indians and Mumbai. He also proved that he's no one-trick pony. In the three matches played, Suryakumar scored 89 runs, including a half-century. The best part is that the runs have come at a sizzling strike rate of 185.41.

In fact, high-tempo batting is how the younger crop of Hardik Pandya, Rishabh Pant and Shreyas Iyer operated in the T20I and ODI series against England. Pant, given a second lease of life following the Adelaide debacle, has hit a purple patch in all formats since the Boxing Day Test. He still possesses the same explosive instincts but is far smarter when it comes to shot selection. He knows when to pull the trigger and his calculated assaults have often left bowlers and fielders running for cover.

Hardik, looking assured in his bowling following the back surgery, is back to being the X-factor. Possessing solid core strength, Hardik has the ability to clear the ropes at will and his presence in the lower middle order gives the Indian side the edge.

Rahul and Shreyas, unlike the dashing players mentioned above, are more old school and bank on class. However, once they get their eye in and a measure of the conditions, they are hard to stop. They switch gears seamlessly as their respective innings progresses.

Not too long ago, India's batting relied heavily on the top-three of Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Kohli. One or two of them needed to score big if India were to post strong totals or chase down competitive targets. A rare collective failure from the trio meant disaster. The soft Indian middle-order would barely rise to the challenge and with MS Dhoni’s powers too on the wane in his twilight years, oppositions knew taking out the head would mean easy access to the underbelly.

However, that’s not the case now. Only Kohli played in all the matches against England. Rohit and Dhawan opened in all games in the ODI series but weren’t involved in full in the T20I series. But the next-gen seized the opportunity and with guys like Devdutt Padikkal and Shubman Gill — both openers — still waiting in the wings, the batting department is overflowing with talent. Throw in Krunal Pandya, Shardul Thakur and Washington Sundar — all bowlers but good at wielding the willow — you end up having a strong head, power-packed belly and a tenacious tail.

(Published 31 March 2021, 15:31 IST)

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