In the early hours of Thursday morning, India’s T20 team will leave for Australia to begin the final stretch of preparations for the T20 World Cup starting October 22 (main stage). By winning the series against Australia and South Africa at home, the players have ensured that they enter the ICC event in a good headspace with bilateral success under their belt, but they know that they will be measured by what they do over the next few weeks. They haven’t won the T20 World Cup since winning the inaugural edition in 2007.
“I think both series went really well for us. We were playing two good teams,” coach Rahul Dravid told reporters after the defeat in the third T20I against South Africa on Tuesday. “Australia are T20 world champions. We had never beaten South Africa in a T20 series here. To win both series 2-1 is a really positive result for us. All in all, we got what we needed from the series.”
While Dravid must have been encouraged by the batting unit crossing the 200-run mark twice and chasing down 187 in these games against Australia and South Africa, he agreed on the need to improve the death bowling. In Indore on Tuesday, the Indian bowlers leaked 108 runs in the final eight overs as South Africa piled up 227/3 in their 20 overs.
“Certainly the bowling at the death…to be fair, there have been very flat wickets. It hasn’t been easy bowling at the death not just for us but also for Australia and South Africa,” the 49-year-old said. “That (death bowling) is certainly an area we would like to improve and get better at. Because in big tournaments, margins can be really small. Every run and boundary can matter. If we can cut them at any stage in the game, it is certainly going to make a difference.”
The absence of the injured Jasprit Bumrah contributes significantly to the bowling concerns. They haven’t named a replacement for the star pacer yet, but Dravid seemed to suggest that Mohammed Shami is the frontrunner provided he is ready to go. The 32-year-old pacer missed the series against Australia and South Africa after contracting Covid-19.
“We have got time till October 15. Shami is someone who is in the standbys. He couldn’t play these series, which would have been ideal. He is in the National Cricket Academy (NCA) at the moment. We have to get reports on how he’s recovering and what his status is after 14-15 days of Covid. We will take a call once I get a report on how he’s feeling,” said the former India skipper.
Regardless of who comes in for Bumrah, each member of the pace bowling department will have to step up in the death overs. The scrutiny is likely to be on Harshal Patel in particular after he took just three wickets in the six games against Australia and South Africa at an economy of 10.95.
“We need to execute better. We have got strategies and some smart plans. But a lot of it comes down to that execution, the ability to bowl the yorker or the slower one or hit the wide line. As a group, we certainly need to do better,” he said. “Harshal has performed well over the last couple of years. He was coming back after a month off from the game (he was out with a rib injury). It’s not the easiest bowling conditions to walk into after you haven’t played for six weeks. We really back him. We know he’s got the quality.”
Another challenge for India will be adapting to the Australian conditions as quickly as possible. It is why Dravid sees merit in the team reaching Australia two-and-a-half weeks before the first game against Pakistan on October 23. The players will spend a few days training in Perth before playing two official warm-up matches against Australia and New Zealand in Brisbane on October 17 and 19.
“Australia is quite unique in terms of the pace and bounce. A lot of our players haven’t actually played a lot of T20s in Australia. The idea was to give ourselves a chance to practise a little bit more, acclimatise and get some game time in. Having been to Australia before, I know that it takes a little bit of time to get used to that pace and bounce. Once we practise there, we will hopefully be able to have discussions around the strategies and tactics of how we need to play. Hopefully, that should help us,” he said.