A comprehensive defeat to England in Adelaide ended India's hopes of securing a second T20 World Cup. Tom Moody, Anil Kumble and Stephen Fleming get together after the game during ESPNcricinfo's analysis show, T20 Time Out, to dissect what went wrong for India, how they should rebuild for 2024, and whether the likes of Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli could be phased out of T20Is altogether.
The next T20 World Cup is in two years. What should be the first plan to address the top-order issue?
Moody: I think the top order needs to be more dynamic. So I'd be looking at players that fit that profile. So, identifying who are the players who play the sort of fearless game that we see, for example, Suryakumar Yadav. But he plays in the middle order. Who is the version of him that I can have at the top of the order?
Ideally, in my top three, I'd want two of them and then I have my anchor player that plays around circumstances, conditions, lot of early wickets, whatever it is, just to set the ship back on the right course if things go wrong.
So who are those dynamic players? Rishabh Pant is one of them. Ishan Kishan is another one that I see who is an extraordinary talent. At the end of the day, it's not the people you are picking but the brand of cricket you want to play. The people then follow the brand.
Do you feel that as a player grows in stature in Indian cricket, he almost loses the ability to play that brand?
Kumble: I think what is crucial in a situation like this is the communication that you have with your group of players, not necessarily what we think about as experts or what the media thinks. So, yes, the communication around the players is what brand of cricket that you are going to play and how you are going to support the kind of players who come in to play that kind of cricket. Because when you are playing that kind of cricket, it involves a lot of risk. Which means that you may not have performances consistently going your way.
There may be situations where you may get blown away for 80. Because if that's the kind of cricket you want to play, where right from ball one, you're going to go hard, then you need proper communication around the team. And it just doesn't require the captain and the coach to do that, it requires everyone to get a buy-in. More importantly, what I see as something that certainly needs to be done is, how we keep talking about bowlers need to bat. But I think in Indian cricket, you need batters to bowl too for the balance of the team.
That's exactly what England have. They had too many choices today. They used Liam Livingstone. Moeen Ali has hardly bowled in this tournament. So those are the choices that you need. Unfortunately even in the India A team that gets picked, it's mostly batters who don't bowl. It's important to create that brand of cricket and say that this is how the Indian team is going to do it and it should follow right through the system. I think the more and more you play T20s, it's going to be like this, where you just come and show your power. So that's exactly how I think T20 is going to go forward.
Moody: I think the important thing we need to recognise is that today's result for England is the legacy that Eoin Morgan has left in English cricket. He was the one who was very firm in the brand that he wanted his white-ball teams to play both in T20 and 50-over cricket, and he backed them. When you play that brand, you're going to have highs and you're going to have lows, but you have to stick with people.
So you identify who those people are that can bring that style of cricket that you feel is the future, that's going to give you the success, and that sort of breeds another generation of people. So you breed that success and that's the turning point for India. There's no shortage of talent, but it's about accepting that this is the brand and that we've got your back. We know there's going to be failure playing that way but we feel that you've got the skillset and we are going to surround you with the support to make sure you technically, physically and mentally can survive playing that type of cricket.
This is perhaps easier to instill on the newer bunch of cricketers?
Moody: Not necessarily. Look at Jonny Bairstow's story. I know he is not in this World Cup because of his injury. But Bairstow did not play that brand of cricket 10 years ago. He's evolved and turned into a beast. You look at him in the Test arena now. He's even taking that approach to Test cricket. He's always been a steady impact player but now he is like a different beast, isn't he?
So you need four or five players to bat with Suryakumar's intent, if not execution?
Moody: Yeah and he does it as a freelancer. He does it because that's who he is. That is his own authenticity as a cricketer. And it's breaking away the shackles of the others and saying this is what I want you to do, we've got your back.
Fleming: I like to concentrate on the responsibility of the player, whether it's the current or the up and coming, that this is the way the game's going. It's fine for Tom or Anil or me to say you have to go and play and be free, but you have to learn how to do it. And there's a certain skill-set, courage, resilience and confidence that is needed to do it. So you can't just go ahead and change your game straight away.
But assuming I'm a young player, I'd be thinking, 'hey I can see the game going this way. I'm going to learn some of these skills. I haven't got them now, but I'm going to learn and I'm going to become a member of this next side whether it's two years or four years down the track because I'm going to play a certain way'.
"Sheer numbers has often been the way you get recognised in India, but now it's the way you get the numbers. It might not be as high, but the strike-rates have to be higher"
Stephen Fleming on the way forward for India's top order
So the responsibility will still lie with the player to pick up that skill, and that's the exciting part. You've got one of the greatest stages you can have in the IPL to show your talent, so from now until then, get going. Where it gets interesting is he [Moody] talked about buy-ins, Morgan getting buy-ins from players and a number of coaches. In India it's a bit harder, because you have to get buy-ins all the way down to the high-end domestic level. And there's a lot of coaches and a lot of people you have to convince that this is the right way to go. Because sheer numbers has often been the way you get recognised in India, but now it's the way you get the numbers. It might not be as high, but the strike-rates have to be higher. It has to be higher risk, it has to have an element of confidence to get down on the knee and start sweeping and doing these shots that are now becoming commonplace among the best of the world.
The onus goes on the cricket landscape to pick these players up and teach them what's the next way to play in the top order. It's not a massive change, but you're going to have to shift the mentality of a number of batters. Some of these top batters, they're beautiful players to watch, but they might have to add a little bit of the unorthodox and just take the game on a little bit more, if India are to compete with England going forward in the next few years.
Kumble: One is of course having that brand of cricket and then choosing the players to do that but I think it's also important that these players play their specific roles wherever they play. Because it's not about just playing that role for India and then going back to your domestic cricket and franchise cricket and then changing the way you're going to go about it. Because, for example, Pant today batted for India at No. 6, he walked in in the 19th over. He never does that in domestic cricket. So you need some kind of role definition as well there and that's something I think is very critical if you're going to build a potent team where you need a back-up for those roles and not necessarily your six best players whatever role they can. It's very difficult to do that in a World Cup.
Moody: Just to build on that a little bit, the example you have there of Pant coming in the 19th over. That's everything that went wrong with India's pursuit of a total. Because how could you have a resource like that left and have the total they've got? If he's coming in the 19th over, you'd expect the score to be 180 or 190. But having that as a wasted resource is purely because of the brand that was demonstrated for 70% of the innings. In my opinion, 60 or 70% of that innings was not the modern brand that is going to be good enough to win the T20 World Cup.
Kumble: I'm not saying they got it wrong. They are players that are capable of playing at a higher strike-rate. But obviously, Rohit has not been in the best of form. He was trying hard. It was not for a lack of trying, it was just that it didn't work out. Maybe recognising on the surface, that since KL Rahul got out early, he should have known that in the first six overs, someone had to take the initiative. Virat hit that six over extra cover, but I think in the next few overs, the momentum was again taken away from India and given back to England. Especially after the sixth over, when the two spinners came on, I don't think there was any intent to put the pressure back on England. Like Tom had mentioned, there was no identifying which bowler to take down today. Irrespective, he may end up getting three wickets, but you need to decide that okay, he's the person I'm going to take down.
Moody: In the powerplay, there was a simple difference with the approach and intent that we've been talking about. Five boundaries by India, 10 by England. Anil makes a really good point, he's bowled enough overs to understand this. You can only bowl as well as you're allowed to. And at times, you can bowl an over or two and you get away with it thinking, oh they haven't really taken me down yet. Because suddenly the margin of your error when someone is taking you on shrinks dramatically. So that's what happened today with India's bowlers. The way that Jos Buttler and Alex Hales batted, they didn't have a margin of error purely because they put so much pressure on them.
Indian players just play the IPL, but they come up against a number of players who have a great deal of T20 experience from around the world. Are Indian players short-changed that they play only one premier T20 tournament in the year?
Fleming: It may be something to consider when you listen to the commentators talk about Hales and his experience at the ground [Adelaide Oval] and Phil Salt has played at the ground. It seems like a number of these players who are playing around the world are getting really important experience from playing these domestic tournaments that they can then tap into and feel a lot more comfortable.
You look at the CPL which becomes more important with the next World Cup being there in the Caribbean, and how many players can you get put into that tournament to get an idea of conditions. It is an advantage. Young players maybe more so than the guys who have been a bit longer in the tooth. Bairstow is a great example. They can still keep getting better because you keep learning from these environments. Things are done in a different way in different parts of the world. So if you keep bolting, it's like upgrading your phone. Every time you plug it in and get an upgrade you get another new tool. And these guys are just going around adding these new tools to their repertoire. So they become quite complete and then they just sync in to a certain way of playing. Playing with a different group of people outside of the people you know and usually play with, that can also be a good challenge and good for the maturity and pressure-wise, responding to it and again just adding something to your game.
Would you welcome a change at least for young players, if not the centrally contracted ones, to go and play in other leagues?
Kumble: I think exposure certainly helps. It certainly helps any cricketer. We have seen that with the kind of development that it has had on Indian cricket. For example, the IPL, where overseas players come in and the kind of changes we've had in Indian cricket has certainly helped. And likewise, if you identify the brand of cricket that we are looking at and then identify these key young players who you believe need those exposures, then why not? I think that's important. The other thing that I also feel that needs to come into this team is the flexible approach to batting or the batting order. Because in T20s, I certainly believe there is no fixed batting order. You have to be flexible in the way you are going to go about using your resources. And yeah, in terms of giving an opportunity to a young player to go overseas and have a crack, then why not? I think it's important that you need to have everything that you need to do that come 2024, you are well prepared to take on a World Cup event.
Moody: What we've seen over recent years is that more and more Indian players get that exposure in county cricket and the benefit that they get with that exposure. Zaheer Khan is one of the greatest examples of all. Ishant Sharma is also another great example. That exposure of learning about their game, learning about other professionals around them and the volume of cricket that you play there. You talked about the lack of depth of Indian batsmen that can bowl; take tournaments like the CPL for example, if you're using that as a platform, you couldn't get a better platform to send six or 12 and have two batting allrounders per team in that tournament. And I know that tournament would say with open arms, please bring all of your development players, it doesn't have to be your contracted players, and use this as a platform. Because it's a win-win. The CPL will welcome it thinking gosh, we've got some top notch Indian players, and it gets a little bit of interest in a country where cricket is as big as we know. I think everyone's a winner.
Kumble: Yeah, I think it will only benefit the younger players if they get more opportunities. And I think one thing that certainly needs to be addressed is batters coming on to bowl. Otherwise, you'll end up having this conundrum whether to go with five bowlers, six bowlers. I think if you have enough ability in the top 6 to give you two options, then I think it certainly opens up… you can pick and choose who you want at No. 7.
Moody: With two years to play out, I'd be surprised if they play a lot of T20 cricket for India between now and that World Cup. And I think that decision will be something that they'll need to sit down with the cricket board and work out six months prior to that World Cup. Because I don't see any point in them playing any T20 cricket for India, apart from franchise cricket of course, to that point, because it's a great platform to look to develop the players that we've been talking about.
Kumble: I think you'll sort of not decide now, but it's the decision of the player. And it's about what brand of cricket you want to play and what is the buy-in of everyone else. I think that will determine who is a part of 2024 and who's not.
Fleming: I know there are big decisions made after big tournaments and some can be rash. I don't like discarding players after a big tournament. I think there's a process in which both the boys have identified there that you work through. You're looking at talent, you are looking at the tournaments coming up and you put a bit of a plan in place that is in conjunction with the player, and with selectors and the board. You by no means shut the door, you work towards that door and see what sort of time frame you're thinking and then come up with a plan.
I'm not trying to sit on the fence but I just think it's crude when you just put a line in the sand after a tough tournament when I think they have still something to give. Is there enough time for it? That's a question a couple of years on. What's the motivation level of the player? What's the energy level? Often the decision is made before the selectors have to intervene. So it will be an interesting watch not just for India but for a number of teams when you reshuffle the deck and you see who's still standing.