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Big questions in India’s series win over England ft. Opener Virat Kohli, first-choice spinners and Suryakumar Yadav

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India's problems are plenty as are England's

BCCI

Big questions in India’s series win over England ft. Opener Virat Kohli, first-choice spinners and Suryakumar Yadav

India certainly won the series 3-2 but ultimately, the win hasn’t solved any bit of their problems - at the top or with the ball. It has only created more. KL Rahul and Yuzvendra Chahal - both of whom started as the first-choice options - find their positions flipped upside down. What happens now?

Lack of strike-bowlers in middle-overs

Ever since the first T20I, throughout the series, India have struggled in the middle-overs, right after the powerplay, where the English batsmen have either rebuilt the innings beautifully or upped the ante, at a pace at which India had to concede defeat. In the first game, the spinners struck twice from overs 8-11. In the next game, they struck thrice. In the third game, once and in the fourth, twice. In the fifth one, they picked up three wickets, with two coming off the last over of that phase before death overs. 

India’s planning during the middle-overs has been baffling. First, the use of Yuzvendra Chahal and Washington Sundar, then the use of Rahul Chahar, none has really worked in India’s favour. With no pace-enforcers in the playing XI, they haven’t even been able to do what England did very well, which is restrict the run-flow in the middle-overs. If India are indeed going to go as favourites into the World T20, their middle-overs segment with the ball would surely be a huge deciding factor, good or bad!

Lack of pace-enforcers

While England have made the best use of pace during the middle-overs, with Mark Wood, Jofra Archer and Chris Jordan, India have done the complete opposite - choking the opponents with spin bowling. And with England not choking, the lack of a pace-enforcer, a real threatening option, has cost India games. Despite having Navdeep Saini in the ranks, India reluctant to develop him or use him would surely turn out to be a worry, especially considering only two Indian bowlers could hit the higher 140s mark. 

With Jasprit Bumrah out of the series, for personal reasons, it was more obvious that India could have tried to use a pace-enforcer in the middle-overs, especially on pitches where spinners didn’t have any sort of grip on the ball or on the proceedings. Against England, spin didn’t work well but cutters did. However, once you have sides knowing the strategy more and more, it wouldn’t work as well. But raw pace always works and that’s the X-factor that Virat Kohli has talked about but for some reason, hasn't been trusted. 

Who stays as the openers?

Openers conundrum is not something new in Indian cricket, if anything it has existed since immemorial. But one thing that was astonishing, to say the least, in this series was the way the Indian management treated their openers, especially KL Rahul. The man who has been one of India’s best white-ball players, only behind Rohit Sharma across ODIs and T20Is, has been discounted after just four poor games, after being called as the first-choice opener on the series eve. Forget that, Ishan Kishan, who opened the innings in the second T20I, ahead of Shikhar Dhawan, who was supposed to be the one-change opener, was not even considered during the last T20I. 

In between having Rohit, Kishan, Dhawan and Rahul as the openers, India went with Virat Kohli as the opener. Now the skipper might have anchored the innings and put on a show but what in fact he did was slow the scoring in the powerplay, continuing it in the middle-overs. Acceleration in the shortest format has been a feature of Kohli’s game but despite that, his absolute inception of a perfect XI with him and Rohit at the top leaves India awry. 

Now that Kohli has made it clear as daylight, that he is going to continue opening the innings in the IPL, is it a sign of things? Perhaps, having six openers tussle against each other in the IPL is just a display of wealth! Any which way, India have found itself in another problem, where the problem never existed in the first place, thanks for that. Good luck, Mr Sharma.

Suryakumar Yadav and Shreyas Iyer - one side of two different coins

At the start of the series, India trusted Shreyas Iyer as the anchor of the Indian batting unit but by the end of it, Iyer was already a finisher, somehow with Suryakumar Yadav being hailed as the ‘perfect’ No.3. The latter is completely statistical, last IPL, or even the one before that, the Mumbai Indians batsman was the best No.3, by miles and miles. In fact, he was even better than Virat Kohli, who in the past has made a living off playing at the sacred position. 

But somehow, this series has kind of messed up the plans for India, with Iyer now becoming a finisher and Suryakumar becoming the anchor. When Ravindra Jadeja is back into the setup, one of the two - Suryakumar or Shreyas - has to miss out. With both of them doing ably well, in their roles, Kohli had no choice but to open the innings, which once has again started a chain of things that could possibly doom Indian cricket. Surely, the return of Jadeja might once again close the door for one of the two but who put them in that position? Mirror time.

Who are the first-choice spinners?

It was almost certain that Yuzvendra Chahal was going to be India’s first-choice names on the playing XI, especially at the way in which he came as a last-minute substitute to haunt Australia in the opener of the three-match T20I series. However, from there on, Chahal has fallen off the ladder, which in itself is a bit shaky at the moment. Having started the series as the first-choice spinner alongside Washington Sundar and Axar Patel, the leg-spinner has found himself out of the playing XI, after going wicketless and conceding runs for fun. 

Now that’s not the concern, playing Rahul Chahar isn’t one either, but the rate at which India are going about, wouldn’t discount the fact that Ravi Bishnoi could turn the screw on either of the two already established spinners. In fact, if the series has taught us one thing it is that Washington Sundar all but certainly is the first-choice spinner and the fact that he doesn’t turn the ball much makes it more startling. In the last two games, Chahar conceded 68 runs, picking up two wickets at an average of 34 while Chahal - three wickets at 39.66.

Now like all other dilemmas India face, IPL is the solution, as it really is the best indicator. But somehow, India’s lack of trust in one has always hurt the other, be it Ravichandran Ashwin, Kuldeep Yadav or now Yuzvendra Chahal. 

KL Rahul, Ishan Kishan or Rishabh Pant as the wicketkeeper?

Three different personalities, three different perspectives and three different unique playing styles - KL Rahul, Ishan Kishan and Rishabh Pant are arguably the best wicketkeepers in the country, at the moment. Among the lot, Rahul has previously established himself not only as the best T20I batsman in the world but also has shown his tactical nuances behind the sticks, which made him the first-choice wicketkeeper in the shorter formats. 

But somehow, the Tests against Australia and England changed it all for him, with Rishabh Pant magically earning himself a recall into the white-ball setup, having done literally nothing to warrant that status. If anything, his keeping in the shortest format has been tacky, his batting hasn’t been excellent and of course, his inclusion makes it all more puzzling. 

When there is Rahul, someone who has worked out as a keeper-batsman excellently since the New Zealand tour last year, why do you need a change? Not just that, India also have a brilliant third-wicketkeeper in the squad, Ishan Kishan, someone who has been excellent in this series, not behind the sticks but in front of it. With the bat, he has already shown that he is ready to step up and the world, ready to take notice of him. But somehow, the combination of an injury plus the return of Rohit Sharma sealed his place outside the playing XI.

However, with Pant just scoring 102 runs, at an average of 25.50 and a strike-rate of 129.11, the pressure is definitely going to be on him, ahead of the World T20. But for India, they would have three wicket keepers, going into the IPL tussling for two spots, possibly. So, is the ball in their court or the BCCI’s? That we just have to wonder! 

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