The Rahul Dravid Reset

Game 1: India lose by 7 wickets 

Game 2: India lose by 4 wickets 

Zero wins in the series. Two defeats with the same XI. The series is on the line. Hammered by the same opposition away from home earlier this year. If there was ever a situation that was riper than this to change the playing XI, no matter how much you believe in ‘stability’ and ‘process’, I haven’t come across it. 

Game 3 screamed for personnel changes. 

But India didn’t make any. Instead, they put out a statement.

The statement read: Ruturaj Gaikwad, Ishan Kishan, Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant(c&wk), Hardik Pandya, Dinesh Karthik, Axar Patel, Harshal Patel, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Avesh Khan, Yuzvendra Chahal

It was the same XI that played the first 2 T20Is. 

Result: India win by 48 runs. The series scoreline now reads 1-2. 

Ruturaj Gaikwad, Axar Patel, and Yuzvendra Chahal were some of the names that featured in the commentators/fans/experts’ lists of players who should have been dropped.

Here is how the trio performed in the 3rd T20I:  

Commentators who wanted these players dropped ahead of the game were now full of praises for the Indian team management sticking to the same XI. The tune was changing on social media too. It reeks of hindsight, isn’t it? Opinions and judgements are far too often based on short-term results, and this is yet another instance of the same.

Two losses don’t tell you much, especially when they are losses that have come when batting first in T20. Setting a target in 20 overs cricket is challenging; in addition to the possibility of dew making batting easier as the game progresses, batters also get improved game awareness as a result of knowing exactly what the target is. So, if you have sound reasoning behind the XI you picked in the first game and there are no significant changes in playing conditions or the makeup of the opposition, there is no reason to change it after two losses. 

India knew what they were doing. There was nothing on the bench that could dramatically change their fortunes. Hence, they didn’t panic.

Keep in mind, however, that they were still behind in the series as they moved to Game 4. So, ‘experts’ will still have to make stuff up to do ‘scope for improvement’ talk. And that now involved dropping the one player who didn’t join the party at Visakhapatnam – Avesh Khan. 

This team didn’t bother to drop anyone when they had every reason to. So why would they, then, bench someone now when in a better position? But that’s logic. And suspending logic is, unfortunately, the easiest way to create content. This resulted in ‘Drop Avesh Khan’ becoming the new battle cry after Game No.3. 

Game 4: A bullish India field the same XI again and win the match by an even bigger margin. The series is now level at 2-2.

Avesh Khan’s match figures: 4-0-28-4

What India did in this series was a great way to empower players. Secure in the knowledge that they would be given a fair run in the team to showcase their skills, players understood that all the focus on “process and stability” wasn’t just bold talk, like so many have done before. And personal security for all involved almost always results in team unity. So, naturally, you saw them open up in support of the team’s new methods.

This is what Avesh had to say after the game: “The team hasn’t changed over four games, so credit to Rahul (Dravid) sir. He gives chances to everybody and intends to give them a long enough run. He doesn’t drop a player after one or two bad performances because you cannot judge a player on the basis of one or two games.”

There really was no case to bench the Madhya Pradesh quick after the first two losses. He had only played 4 games till that point. And this is the first instance of him playing two consecutive matches in a series. Avesh adds extra pace to the side, gives the team an option of having someone who can hit the deck harder, and will love the conditions in which the World Cup they are preparing for will be held. 

Of the two alternatives on the bench, Umran Malik had just completed his first full IPL season, and Arshdeep Singh is not a significant upgrade. 

  • Avesh Khan in IPL since 2021: 43 wickets at 20/8
  • Arshdeep Singh in IPL since 2021: 28 wickets at 26/8

You are unlikely to do justice to any of these players by giving them 2 matches each. On the other hand, by giving one player a good, solid run at the role, you at least try to do right by one of them. 

In fact, this is exactly what India missed in the last World Cup cycle. The Shastri-Kohli management not only cast their net too wide but also panicked due to the number of options the widened net presented and ultimately lost their plot as the World Cup drew close. 

The mucked up 2021 T20 World Cup

In the 2 years building up to the World Cup, no team gave 5+ chances to more players than India. The covid situation forced the hand of almost every team to try out more players in 2020 and 2021, but it wasn’t the case in 2018 and 2019. A team with a clear roadmap for the next T20 World Cup would have zeroed in on its top 20 players and tried to give them the most game time to familiarise themselves with their respective roles and showcase their capabilities. 

The new India coach Rahul Dravid even spoke about the perils of trying too many players in one of his very first press conferences: “We don’t want to cast our net too wide but we also don’t want to just restrict ourselves to 15 players. By the time we get to the [T20] World Cup, we need to have a bunch of guys who have at least played 10-20 games.”

But India, under Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri, tried 32 players in total in 2018 and 2019 and entertained 26 of them for far long,

Team (India vs Top 4)Number of Players given 5+ chances (2018-2019)
New Zealand 17
England 17

First, they spent too much time on too many players. Then, as it happened ahead of the 2019 50 overs World Cup, they did a complete u-turn on several first XI players and first-choice backups, thereby wasting time spent preparing for the World Cup. As a result, less than 10% of India’s overs in the T20 WC came from the 5 bowlers who bowled the most number of overs for the team between Jan 1, 2018, and Oct 16, 2021. Even considering that Washington Sundar missed out on a World Cup spot due to an injury, this is appalling. 

PlayerOvers bowled (Jan 1, 2018-Oct 16, 2021)Overs Bowled in T20 WC 2021
Yuzvendra Chahal1380
Bhuvneshwar Kumar101.13
Washington Sundar99.30
Shardul Thakur75.54.3
Krunal Pandya68.20

The corresponding numbers for the eventual semi-finalists: 76% for Pakistan, 74% for New Zealand, 45% for Australia, and 44% for England. India were at 9.9%. A meagre Nine Point Nine Percent! 350 overs of learnings were ultimately of no use to them in the tournament because none of the players featured in the XI.

And the batter who faced the most number of balls for India in T20Is in this period – Shikhar Dhawan – wasn’t even part of the squad. That’s 933 balls that were, again, useless to the World Cup. 150.3 overs of wasting time and energy and, on top of it, not learning anything. Shreyas Iyer and Manish Pandey, who, for some reason, played 47 matches between them in the 2.5 years building up to the World Cup, weren’t part of the 15-member squad either.

Now, not picking some of these players was understandable, but why were they entertained so long when they had no case to be in the squad? Between 2017 and 2019, Manish only had an IPL strike rate of 125. And Iyer 129. Why did they get more chances than Dinesh Karthik, who was one of the league’s best players in this period in addition to averaging 57 and striking at 161 for India?

PlayerIPL record between 2017 and 2019Last game in the 2021 WC Cycle
Dinesh Karthik 1112 runs at 40/145 Feb 27, 2019
Manish Pandey1024 runs at 38/125Dec 4, 2020
Shreyas Iyer1212 runs at 34/129Mar 20, 2021

Simply put, it was not only bad preparation but also self-destructive. So was it really a surprise when Karthik claimed he felt secure returning to this dressing room after a failure?

After his POTM performance in Game No.4 at Rajkot, Dinesh Karthik said, “I am feeling very secure in this set-up. In the last game, things didn’t go exactly according to the plan for me, but the way I felt in the dressing room post the game was very comforting. Right now, the dressing room is a very safe, secure place. It feels warm, it feels fuzzy when things go well, and it feels the same when they don’t go as well. There is a certain sense of calmness.

“Rahul bhai has been very clear about how we should approach the series. I don’t think he has been saying we should beat South Africa. What he has been saying is what he expects batters and bowlers to do. I think that clarity is very, very important.”

Dravid understands the problem with making harebrained decisions. After the conclusion of the SA series, he explained the rationale behind the think-tank’s moves: “We’re not going to make knee-jerk reactions. As you have seen, I don’t like judging people after one series, or one game. Every one of the guys who got the opportunity here truly deserved the opportunity; they have earned it. And in this format of the game, you’re going to have some good games and some bad games.”

So, India did what they did in this series because they wanted to give their first XI, and in its absence, first-choice backups a long run. How long is a long enough run? Why was Sanju Samson dropped after 3 games if India are trying to give their players an extended rope, as coach Rahul Dravid claims? Will Rishabh Pant ever get dropped for his poor T20I performances? And how did DK rise in the pecking order?

For answers to all these questions, read Part 2 of the article that will be released on the @Fanatikkind Twitter handle tomorrow.

One thought on “The Rahul Dravid Reset: Why India played the same XI in all 5 games – Explained”
  1. Ravi Shastri clearly said some days back that the bilateral series were meaningless. That explains his decision-making. Man was just picking random players who has had good numbers in the ipl.
    If he had known that those bilaterals were a means to build a settled team for the worldcup, we would have had atleast one trophy to show for.

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