T20 World Cup: Early decisions on Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, Hardik Pandya’s readiness to bowl, and reliance on left-arm spin ended India’s long trophy drought

Data showed that left-arm spin flourished in T20s in the Caribbean, prompting selectors to pick four tweakers in the World Cup squad.

“Yes Jaybhai, I will bowl.”

That one-line promise by Hardik Pandya on the phone to BCCI secretary Jay Shah played a crucial role in the national selectors assembling a winning combination for the T20 World Cup in the US and West Indies. This conversation took place during the May-June IPL, where Hardik, returning after a long injury lay-off to lead Mumbai Indians, wasn’t bowling regularly.

However, the bigger decision on the team’s main pillars, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli, was made by the national selectors and top BCCI officials at the start of the year. It was this early call and the conviction to stick by their decision despite criticism that led to the assembly of the 15 cricketers who won India a World Cup after over a decade.

Before Ajit Agarkar took charge as chairman of selectors, India seemed to have moved on from Rohit and Kohli in T20Is. Hardik Pandya was seen as the leader in the shortest format, and Shubman Gill the opener. Agarkar and his committee weren’t sure about the timing of this T20 transition. Those in the know speak of the conversation Agarkar had with Rohit.

“Rohit agreed straight away. He felt he would give one last shot in the T20 format. Rohit felt the way his batting form is, he can push one more season,” a BCCI official told The Indian Express.

Around this time, Kohli sought clarity about his T20I future. He too was given a thumbs up. Kohli’s IPL runs and the relative batting failures of Shubman Gill and Yashaswi Jaiswal got the veteran the opener’s slot. “With these three important pieces of the jigsaw in place, the picture was clear. Now we needed to put a plan in place,” said a selector.

For that, they relied on data from the West Indies, where the business end of the tournament would take place. Numbers indicated that left-arm spinners were very effective in the Caribbean. “We saw a pattern where left-arm spinners had a big role to play in T20s in the Caribbean. On slow pitches, because they attack the stumps more, they were always in the game,” points out the source.

Learning from history
The selectors used the template Yash Dhull’s Under-19 team used to win the World Cup held in the Caribbean in 2021. In India’s U19 triumph, left-arm spinner Vicky Ostwal was the leading wicket-taker. That S Sharath, who was chairman of the junior selection panel that picked the victorious U-19 squad, was now part of the senior set-up also helped.

India picked four frontline spinners – Kuldeep Yadav, Axar Patel, Ravindra Jadeja, and Yuzvendra Chahal – in the squad. At the World Cup, Kuldeep (10) and Axar (9) played huge roles in their unbeaten run. “One thing we are mighty pleased about is how the spin formula worked. Of course, we didn’t have an off-spinner to make it rounded, but in Kuldeep we had a bowler who brought the ball into the right-hander. In the lead-up to the T20 World Cup, we were certain that left-arm spinners will have an impact in the second half of the tournament,” said a selector.

India also had to pick batsmen who could play spin well. With Sharma, Kohli, Pandya, and Suryakumar Yadav among the regulars, and Jadeja and Axar making up the lower order, the decision-makers then decided on the wicketkeepers and an extra batsman. For these two slots, India wanted role-specific players, a strategy successful T20 teams around the world have used.

In came Shivam Dube, the designated spin-hitter who could also bowl a couple of overs if needed. Given Pandya’s fitness struggles, India was wary of a situation where he suddenly breaks down in the middle of the tournament – like in the 50-over World Cup – and his absence hurts the team balance.

“Having role-specific players is one thing that Rohit insisted on because in the IPL, certain players were doing a particular role. But when it came to India, it wasn’t the same. They were either batting out of position or were not given the right role,” the source adds.

For the crucial wicketkeeper slot, the selectors chose multiple left-right options and, more importantly, ones who could be flexible in terms of where they bat. Rishabh Pant and Sanju Samson offered that option and were capable of providing the flourish whenever needed.

Hence, a clear vision, reliance on data, and conditions-specific selection played a significant role in ending India’s long wait for major ICC silverware.

About Seema Vishwas

An anchor with CNBC TV18 for almost 4 years. Also co-anchors prime-time market shows like Power Breakfast, Traders only, Markets Mid-day and NSE Closing Bell.

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