Excellent-signs-leading-into-defenc1

A cracking Twenty20 international series brought the curtain down a multi-format tour of India by England, split into halves. While India lorded over the Test series on their way to a commanding 4-0 triumph, the limited-overs skirmishes were expectedly close affairs. It is to India’s credit that they upped their game at vital moments to win both the 50-over and 20-over contests by identical 2-1 margins to usher in Virat Kohli’s captaincy era in some style.

While it is true that there is little T20I cricket lined up for India in the next six months, this series offered excellent pointers for what lies ahead, even from the 50-over point of view. More than the result itself, what has heartened me is the ability of different individuals to step up their game at different times. No team can afford to depend heavily on one or two individuals. The unearthing of several players who have shown that they can influence the outcome of matches has to be the biggest gain for India from the limited-overs matches.

We have already touched upon the emergence in the 50-over format of Kedar Jadhav and Hardik Pandya as finishers that can take the load off MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh. The T20Is provided further evidence that even without a substantial contribution from Virat, India now have the depth and the experience to tide over pressure situations, something that was conspicuous by its absence for most of last year.

To keep losing tosses, having to bowl in difficult conditions with the dew, and still be able to defend two totals is credit to the Indian bowling unit. Ashish Nehra reiterated the value of experience while combining it with  pace, while Jasprit Bumrah again showed how much he has come on after just one year of international cricket, and Yuzvendra Chahal has set stall as a wicket-taking option, both inside the Power Play overs and in the middle stages of an innings.

It is not easy for a leg-spinner in particular to bowl in the first 6 overs with a brand new white ball, but Chahal did that extremely well in all the matches. The highlight obviously was his six-wicket haul in Bangalore, but even before that, he had showcased the value he brings to the T20I side. I am a firm believer that the best dot ball is the one that fetches you a wicket. There is nothing that puts a more effective brake on the rate of scoring than the fall of wickets, as was evident throughout what was surprisingly not as high-scoring an affair as was expected.

With India having rested Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, Chahal and Amit Mishra more than filled the breach with aplomb. While Mishra might not have had the wickets to show for his efforts, he was brilliant especially in Bangalore on an excellent batting surface, and the spell he strung together was instrumental in pressure building at the other end. Bowling is as much a partnership discipline as batting is, and nowhere was it in greater evidence than at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium when England just keeled over without a fight after having laid the base for an assault on India’s good total.

Bumrah’s return to wicket-taking ways in the second match in Nagpur was really good to see. He had not been in the greatest rhythm until that game, both in the ODIs and in the first match in Kanpur, but the way he roused himself with England on course for victory in Nagpur was quite a sight. He bowled with intelligence and commonsense, not always going to his yorker which is his stock delivery at the death because the conditions called for a reduction in length and mixing up the pace. In Nehra, he and the rest of the bowling pack have an excellent mentor. Between them, the veteran and the young guns have found the perfect route to build pressure and take wickets. I would rate the Nagpur win as one of India’s better T20I victories in recent times.

Like Bumrah, KL Rahul too had had an ordinary time of it in the limited-overs matches until Nagpur. He was perhaps overcharged and looking to go hard at the ball, which is not really his strength. In Nagpur, he gave himself time and played the kind of cricket that has brought him success — relying on timing and playing the ball late instead of trying to muscle it over the ropes. Going back to what has worked for him resulted in a brilliant innings on a surface where no other batsman looked comfortable. Sometimes, the smallest things make the greatest difference. I am sure Rahul would have learnt that after the Nagpur innings in particular.

While the fresher lot made its pitch in earlier games, it was great to see the old guard stand up with the bat in Bangalore. Suresh Raina, MS and Yuvi all made runs, and attractive, punishing, rapid runs at that. Of the three, Suresh probably needed the innings the most, what with this being his comeback; he responded magnificently with a power-packed knock. I was a little surprised to learn that this was the first time MS had scored a T20I fifty, but then again, he has batted so low and had so few deliveries to face in the past that it was perhaps too much to expect. Yuvi continues to remind the opposition that it just takes one over for him to change the tidings. Oh! It is a treat to see the ball go like a slingshot from his bat.

India’s limited-overs wins came in the absence of at least two vital cogs, Rohit Sharma and Mohammed Shami, both recovering from injuries. These two, along with Ashwin and Jadeja, will be back in the mix for the ICC Champions Trophy 2017, which means Virat and the selectors have an enviable pool to pick from.

It is always better to have more than less. You rather be spoilt for choices than struggle for options, and if there is one thing the last six matches have proved, it is that India are in a good space when it comes to resources. There are multiple options when it comes to batting, pace and spin options. MS is keeping as well as ever and batting with more freedom now that he is coming up the order and is no longer shackled by the cares of captaincy. And Virat and Anil Kumble will make sure there is absolutely no scope for complacency. All excellent signs leading into the defence of the Champions Trophy in June, though the immediate focus will be on the five home Tests preceding the IPL.