It seemed that victories in multiple bilateral series healed India's wounds from last year's ICC Men's T20 World Cup, but the Asia Cup 2022 proved yet again why multi-nation tournaments require not only quality but coherence and unity – something the men in blue have lacked in recent tournaments.
The upcoming T20 World Cup 2022 will be a litmus test for every facet of Indian cricket, be it the players, the coaching staff, or the selectors. The last group has submitted their answer scripts, naming a 15-man squad to travel to Australia, and now we await results.
The squad has elicited mixed reactions, but for an all-inclusive analysis, we have compared the Indian side with the squads of three other 'presumed contenders' – Australia, England, and South Africa.
The Top Three
On paper, the top three of Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, and Virat Kohli seem like a daydream. They have a combined score of over 40,000 international runs for India, but in the shortest format of the game, the success of a player depends on the extent of efficacy, not on the cumulative numbers.
Despite having all the experience and dexterities in the world, instances of the Indian top three flattering to deceive are much more common than the team management would want it to be.
Skipper Rohit Sharma, however, is an exception. Since the start of 2021, he has scored 840 runs, which is the most among batters who bat in the top three and have played over 100 deliveries. His average of 31.11 is not particularly pleasing, but Sharma certainly makes up for it with a strike rate of 149.73.
Virat Kohli has scored 596 runs since 2021 and KL Rahul has scored 421 runs, but their strike rates work against them. Kohli's runs have come at a strike rate of less than 140, while Rahul's figure is even lower, at 127.96.
In comparison, Australia's top three seem to be at par with the Indian trio. Aaron Finch, David Warner, and Mitchell Marsh have scored 1685 T20I runs since 2021; while sharing a resemblance, they have one aggressor in Warner, and two anchors in Finch and Marsh.
England, however, are a deviation from this pattern, as they usually have two aggressors in their top three as opposed to two anchors. Jos Buttler's strike rate since 2021 while batting in the top three is nearly 150, which allows Dawid Malan to his play his natural game without taking the risks he ideally would want to avoid.
They have recalled Alex Hales into the team, who is also known for a my-way-or-the-highway batting approach. Since last year, his strike rate in the T20 leagues is north of 160, while also scoring at an average of over 30.
Purely on the basis of statistics, South Africa could be handed the fourth place in this particular aspect, as be it Quinton de Kock, Temba Bavuma, or Reeza Hendricks, no one has been able to maintain a strike rate north of 140 in T20I cricket since the last year.
Strike Rate Aggregate of Top 3: (In T20Is Since 2021)
England – 433.95
India – 417.49
Australia – 404.73
South Africa – 376.13
Average Aggregate of Top 3: (In T20Is Since 2021)
Australia – 132.36
India – 122.04
England – 103.58
South Africa – 83.14
The statistics highlight that England's top three play the most aggressive brand of cricket, setting up a foundation for their middle order, but India have a superior cumulative average.
The success of the Indian middle-order will hinge on the performance of the top three. Suryakumar Yadav, who has scored runs in this format at an exemplary strike rate of 180+ and an average of over 40 since 2021, is going to be the trump card for the team.
That being said, it will be crucial for the likes of Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya to step up if the boys in blue want to compete against the Australian and the South African middle-order.
Both of those teams have at least two middle-order batters with an average of over 30 and a strike rate of over 130 (Matthew Wade and Marcus Stoinis in Australia, Aiden Markram and David Miller in South Africa), while in this aspect, India have a lone warrior in Yadav.
The Jacks of All Trades
The all-rounders' department could prove to be an Achilles' heel for India, not because Rohit Sharma's team will be found wanting for quality all-rounders, but because a few teams have a plethora of them.
In England's case, Ben Stokes is considered among the best all-rounders in modern-day cricket, while both Moeen Ali and Liam Livingstone have scored 350+ runs and have taken 10+ wickets in this format since 2021.
For Australia, Marcus Stoinis, Glenn Maxwell, and Ashton Agar have all been multi-utility contributors. South Africa also possesses two options in Aiden Markram and Dwaine Pretorius who can be used in any given department.
India should have been at par, or even better than some teams if they had a full-strength squad, but the absence of Ravindra Jadeja because of an injury makes the team lopsided, with Hardik Pandya being the only cricketer who can be equally useful across all disciplines of the game.
Axar Patel, Jadeja's replacement in the squad, has taken 12 T20I wickets over the last twenty-two months but has scored less than 100 runs. Deepak Hooda, another all-rounder alternative, is a contrasting player – having played a few impressive knocks, but scalped only a solitary wicket in his T20I career.
Spinners usually play a supportive role to the pacers in Australia, but their importance lies in containing runs in the middle overs, while also not allowing the opposition to build intimidating partnerships.
In terms of the frontline spin option, recent statistics will show India being placed behind the other three. Yuzvendra Chahal has picked up 24 T20I wickets since 2021, while England's Adil Rashid, Australia's Adam Zampa, and South Africa's Tabraiz Shamsi have all picked up over 30 wickets.
Even if we consider the economy rates, Chahal ranks fourth. He has conceded 7.59 runs per over in T20Is since last year, with the other three conceding either less or marginally over 7 runs per over. As for the average, Chahal's figure of 23.46 is the highest of the four.
|PLAYER||WICKETS||AVERAGE||ECONOMY RATE||BOWLING AVERAGE AND ECONOMY RATE AGGREGATE|
(In T20I cricket since the start of 2021)
Thankfully for the Indian management, their pace contingent looks formidable following the return of Jasprit Bumrah and Harshal Patel. Those two players are expected to partner with Bhuvneshwar Kumar in India's pace trio.
Both Bumrah and Kumar have maintained a bowling average of less than 20 in T20Is since 2021, while Patel's figure of 20.96 is equally impressive.
Hosts Australia's pace battery perhaps looks the most intimidating on paper, featuring Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, and Josh Hazlewood. But as is the case with the Indian top three, they have flattered to deceive in recent matches. Hazlewood is the only member of the trio to have an average of less than 20 since 2021.
England's situation looks even worse, as Chris Jordan, Mark Wood, Sam Curran, and Reece Topley have an average in excess of 30 since last year. Chris Woakes happens to be the only English pacer who has consistently done well over the last few months.
South Africa's pace contingent comes close to that of India, with both Anrich Nortje and Lungi Ngidi's recent average being under 20, while their spearhead, Kagiso Rabada can be incredibly destructive once he finds his rhythm.