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T20 WC: Cracking the Modern T20 Code – How India Went From Despair to Delight

T20 World Cup 2024: Less than 2 years after a dispiriting defeat, India are the world champions. How did it happen?

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India’s historic title triumph in the ICC Men's T20 World Cup 2024 final on Saturday night is yet to sink in.

It is hard to believe that it has taken 17 years for India to repeat that historic feat of 2007 in Johannesburg under Mahendra Singh Dhoni. It was such a big moment that it even forced Dhoni to come out of his inertia on Instagram after a year!

But then, miracles do happen, and it has been a fantastic triumph for India – especially skipper Rohit Sharma and the outgoing head coach, Rahul Dravid. This triumph has been at least 18 months in the making since that deflating exit in the semi-final of the T20 World Cup in 2022. That night in Adelaide set the tone for India to reset itself in T20 Internationals.
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A Plan Was Put in Place by Dravid & Agarkar

It seemed for a while in 2022-23 that the reset would happen under the leadership of Hardik Pandya and that Indian cricket would finally look at T20 cricket as a separate format. Emotions were running high, and a lot was being said about why India was unable to crack the code of T20 Internationals. This is, even though India runs the best T20 tournament in the world, in the Indian Premier League (IPL).

While we spoke about all these things in our drawing rooms and coffee shops, very quietly things were changing in the background. A blueprint was being put in place for India to embrace what is called the modern way of playing T20 cricket.

This plan was being put in place by Dravid, along with the new chairman of selectors, Ajit Agarkar. In fact, Agarkar was a crucial part of this planning, but he joined late in the process in mid-2023 after the Chetan Sharma fiasco.

Offering a Clean Slate to Rohit Sharma

There was still confusion over who would lead India in T20 Internationals. Pandya appeared to be the man in charge in the shortest format and he let everyone know that he was the leader. Then, Pandya got injured and Suryakumar Yadav took charge briefly.

The die was finally cast when India had a fantastic run in the ODI World Cup at home, only to suffer a heartbreak in the final at Ahmedabad. That unbeaten run, albeit in a different format, set in motion a series of events.

Sharma was offered a clean slate and total control of Indian cricket, alongside Dravid, who was keen to step aside. Both were given a free run till the T20 World Cup. They demanded a few things – like clarity in role and freedom to plan for this event. It was handed to them on a platter by the BCCI. The selectors, led by Agarkar, also backed the vision shared by Dravid and Sharma.
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What India Learned From Australia & England

One thing was clear – India were not going to be playing outdated T20 cricket and they had picked up clues from their rivals. Australia and England – the previous T20 World Champions – had provided an insight on what is needed in the shortest format.

Australia and England had the following:

  • Aggressive intent from the word go

  • Plenty of all-rounders

  • Depth in batting

  • Multiple bowling options

India had to mirror this in the way they picked a squad, and it showed when in early May, they named a World Cup squad under Sharma. They resisted the temptation of picking an extra batter in Rinku Singh, who was everyone’s favourite in the T20 format. India plumped for Shivam Dube for his prowess against the spinners. Also, the fact that Dube bowled medium-pace helped matters. This was the surest indicator that India would not be on the same path as before in T20s.

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India Showed Everyone Why T20Is Needed Virat Kohli as an Opener

One big takeaway from the Adelaide humiliation at the hands of England in 2022 was the lack of intent from the top-order. In fact, there were open discussions post that defeat in the dressing room about the pressure put on the middle order by the lack of intent at the top. This time, there was no such problem. Sharma set the tone and then the others followed suit with the same intent. It did not matter whether a milestone was on the anvil or not. The squad was given a template and they had to follow that.

The other big step was the fact that the team think-tank made the much-needed change to move Virat Kohli to the opening slot. There were a lot of calls from everywhere to move Kohli back to the number three slot, but the team management resisted that call. It was clear that the team management was sending a message that Kohli is a champion at number three in ODIs, a legend in Tests at number four, but T20Is are a different beast altogether.

In this one move, the Indian think-tank showed everyone why T20Is needed Kohli in the opening slot and how the format is so much more different from the ODIs.

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Other Pieces of the Perfect Jigsaw

Once this strategy was in place, India always had the luxury of throwing the ball to the champion Jasprit Bumrah. Currently, Bumrah is a legend across all three formats and can make the ball talk at will. Whether it was the red ball in the Tests against England at home or the white Kookaburra in the T20 World Cup, Bumrah just knows how to work magic.

India also had the luxury of picking Kuldeep Yadav – another wicket-taking option who worked magic throughout the West Indies leg, except in the final. The biggest plus however was the all-round show of Axar. He was ready to explode when promoted with the bat and with the ball was mean, except obviously in the final. But Axar’s fielding too added value to the side.

Pandya’s redemption also came at the right time because he showed the value of an all-round cricketer in the T20 format. Jadeja did not have much of a role, but with his fielding, he was always a huge plus.

The biggest gain from the tournament was the growth of Arshdeep Singh as a T20 bowler. India had invested in Arsdheep in the T20 format over the past couple of years and it finally paid off. Patience was the key with Arshdeep, and he had shown that he put the horrors of 2022 behind him.

The selectors also deserve kudos for resisting the temptation to pick ODI specialists like KL Rahul, Shubman Gill and Shreyas Iyer. The clear demarcation between ODIs and T20Is will only help Indian cricket going forward.

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Note to the Incoming Team Management

Hopefully, the new incoming team management and selectors will stick to the formula of picking dual-purpose players, select only T20 specialists and will of course continue with this aggressive intent with the bat. 

Of course, the presence of wicket-taking bowlers will be the perfect icing on the cake.

India’s win has continued the trend set by Australia and England in the previous two editions in the 2020s.

South Africa, the vanquished opponents in the final, did not have any of the ingredients that India possessed. They were a bit like India at the ODI World Cup in 2023 with no all-rounders and just five bowling options to boot. The lack of all-rounders stood out in the final when South Africa's tail just could not wag. But that is a problem for South Africa to solve.
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For India, now it is a time to celebrate over the coming days and remember that they are world champions in T20Is! 

But remember, ODIs and Tests also have their own world events which need to be conquered for India to be celebrated as the most dominant force globally in cricket.  

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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