In December 2013, India were faced by an odd situation on their tour of South Africa. During the abandoned third ODI in Centurion, the cheeky host broadcaster played video footage from the first game – of deliveries that Virat Kohli copped on his ribs – on the giant screen. There were even reports – denied later, of course – of a miffed BCCI pulling up the broadcasters for it.
If the intention was to lightly mock and point fingers at Kohli’s fallibility against the likes of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel on lively pitches, it proved to be an exercise in futility. Six days later Kohli returned to Johannesburg as a more enlightened batsman – one who grasped the need to adjust. What followed was the finest example of what even a little bit of acclimatisation can do. Kohli went from scoring an unconvincing 35-ball 31 in a huge ODI defeat to two stellar contributions of 119 & 96 in a drawn Test that India came very close to winning.
But, lesson learnt? Not quite.
Fast forward to 2017. India were in the midst of a scheduling nightmare. A full home series against Sri Lanka was being played just two months since the reverse tour had taken place, leaving India to ‘prepare’ for South Africa by making green-tops at home for Sri Lanka. The results were obviously unsatisfactory, as recreating such alien conditions was just not possible – not beyond the first couple of days in the first Test in Kolkata for sure.
The series ate into the time that India could’ve rather spent tuning up in South Africa, and the results showed. It took India 20 days into the tour to finally register a victory. But by then the Test series trophy already had South Africa’s name embossed on it, prompting even the usually-defiant Ravi Shastri to admit that arriving earlier could’ve helped.
With England this year, India may have just avoided the situation of dealing with hindsight and retrospection in defeat. Results can never be guaranteed, but with the schedule not screaming out ‘D.I.S.A.S.T.E.R’ for once, it presents an optimistic glance into the two-month long stay in England.
In the order of cricketing preference, the T20I series surely ranks the lowest at the moment, with the World T20 more than two years away. Even as the format that pleases those with commercial interests in the game the most, and rakes in advertisement moolah like no other, the absence of cricketing context is quite stark. Yet, the wide margin-for-error is what India stand to benefit from.
“With the major tournament away, it gives you an opportunity to test your bench strength, try out fringe players, test their characters. We are in that zone as well, we are certainly going to try a lot of cricketers as well in the T20 matches, test their characters, test their skills and work out accordingly who will be the next lot to come in, especially to the limited overs format and from there on, they can build on it and play Test cricket as well,” Virat Kohli said on the eve of the series.
The T20Is thus, aren’t just three fixtures for India. They’re nine days of getting used to English weather – which is uncharacteristically warm at the moment – trying out different players, and ‘being flexible’. And in such flexibility, they might just find answers for long-standing puzzles.
“We’re certainly going to be a lot more flexible. The idea of having guys go up and down the order [in Ireland] was to give everyone a go – Guys who had scored in the first game and the guys who needed game time in the second. We’re going to be very flexible with the batting unit, we’re not going to be one-dimensional. And that’s something that we’ve spoken about as a batting unit. We could throw in a few surprises here and there through the whole length of the batting innings. Because it is not such a long batting innings, we can afford to do that.
“Even if the situation is not ideal, after taking a decision we can still work on it, capitalise on it. But again you’ve got to be positive. There’s not enough time to think if the situation has gone wrong or it hasn’t. We certainly have to go on with the game, that allows us to be a lot more flexible. And that’s something that we’re going to look at at doing in this series,” Kohli revealed.
Besides the inward assessment, there’s also a chance for India to size up a limited-overs giant like England. Even at the cost of a T20I series defeat, if India can walk into the ODIs knowing, for instance, how Jos Buttler reacts to dot ball pressure, or what area of the ground Jason Roy prefers to target against their wrist spinners, they will feel enriched. Such a situation less than 12 months ahead of a 50-over World Cup in England will feel like win-win.
Share if you enjoyed this post!