One of the lingering images of the T20 World Cup was Rahul Dravid consoling a shattered Rohit Sharma after India was battered by England in the semi-finals. The team tried its best but felt awfully short of their usual high standards on that fateful Adelaide evening. While Rahul Dravid tiptoed around questions about the future of the seniors in the shortest format in the ensuing press conference, he could have perhaps taken a cue from his own words some 15 autumn back. 

Incidentally, Rahul Dravid’s biggest contribution to India’s T20 success was convincing all seniors not to play the inaugural T20WC in 2007. As confirmed by Lalchand Rajput, the erstwhile manager of the Indian team, it was Rahul, the then captain who thought the T20 format should have youth fronting for India. The rest as they say is history. MS Dhoni, still sporting his wild locks took the team on one wild ride winning the inaugural T20 World Cup and enroute creating a thousand rewind-worthy memories. 

T20 cricket in India was never the same after that. With the advent of IPL, it became a million-dollar behemoth, a golden goose that everyone craved. Rajput even recollected how Sachin Tendulkar repented not playing the T20 WC as a missed chance to win a silverware. While IPL genuinely helped India unearth loads of talent, the Indian team never won the T20 World Cup trophy again, entering the final only once way back in 2014. 

Now there are several reasons behind that, but one big factor is the absence of the effervescence of the youth, that certain nonchalance in decision-making that prompted Uthappa to take part in the bowl off. In this World Cup, often Indian players felt burdened by their reputation, unable to play with an uncluttered mind. Rohit Sharma for all his intent seemed extremely scratchy, and KL Rahul played like a man who has just lost his job after taking a hefty loan. Bowlers, mostly in their final hurrah, appeared listless. The entire campaign felt like an attempt at swansong for a generation of players who have served the nation with dignity but probably were too busy thinking of cementing their legacy. 

In some ways, the Indian team of 2022 was like the English team of 2015 ODI World Cup, which crashed out against Bangladesh. Rather than white-ball specialists, it boasted of a line-up that gained prominence by playing in red-ball cricket and later plied their trade on the shortest format. While Eoin Morgan was the captain, the team was playing a conservative brand of cricket. Once England lost, under Director of Cricket Andrew Strauss England reinvented the wheel bringing a completely new approach to batsmanship. 

Intent was king and England went hell for leather right from the ball go. Allrounders were constantly engaged and backed, thus bringing on the vaunted batting depth which England now possesses. English white ball players were actively encouraged to take part in foreign T20 leagues. India on the other hand, at least in T20, seem to be stuck in a time loop. The likes of Sanju Samson, who could be your T20 savant barely got a game while clutch players like Tewatia were not even considered. Even after Gujarat Titans won without conventional superstars, the Indian selectors and management failed to read the writing on the wall. 

They preferred to choose the safe option rather than going for the jugular. Even in defeat, Pakistan’s Naseem who barely made debut two months back, earned plaudits for his spirited show. India, meanwhile, side-lined Umran Malik after a few indifferent games, much to chagrin of Brett Lee. T20 specialist Harshal Patel, known for his legendary slower balls never got a game in the World Cup. Once Bumrah and Jadeja were injured, Indian selectors hit the panic button selecting players who were long discarded or looked thoroughly misfit Down Under. 

The contrast couldn’t be starker with England who had their fair share of injuries. Missing Bairstow meant Hales was called up despite past baggage, Jordan was trusted once Wood missed out. 

The Indian team between the last T20 World Cup debacle and this one fielded a much younger team on several occasions. Under a new captain and coach, tall promises of intent were given. And to an extent it delivered, till it didn’t. Initially, win or lose, the team was bustling with energy and enthusiasm. But the youngsters were mostly ignored to pick the bigger names come Asia Cup and World Cup, both campaigns ending on a sad note. No one knows why Avesh Khan and Ravi Bishnoi suddenly fell out of favour. 

The script played out similarly to the 2007 ODI World Cup where India got seniors at the last moment despite the young Turks’ stellar performance prior to the tournament. The result was there for everyone to see. A cursory look at domestic tournaments including IPL show India is not short of talent. But will it finally opt for horses for courses selection like it did in 2007? Will Rahul Dravid listen to his inner voice and give a firm nudge to some of the underperforming seniors? It’s very likely there will be a new selection committee soon. There will be a chance to turn the page over and start afresh. 

Will the real Rahul Dravid who had the gumption of declaring the innings when Sachin Tendulkar was batting at 194, stand up and take some brave calls, for Indian cricket’s sake? 

 

 

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