IND vs WI 2021-22 – Rahul Dravid targeting flexibility in roles, continuity in selections



“We are pretty clear with the balance and combination we want. We are just structuring the team around it and balancing individual workloads as well.”

The glimpses of flexibility you saw in India’s batting order and approach against West Indies was no coincidence. It is something that has often been spoken about, both in the team room and at training, and the series was merely a reiteration of coach Rahul Dravid and the team management’s desire to change India’s T20I template.
More than batting positions, the team management is working towards ensuring situations dictate the dynamics, like on Sunday when India needed some experience in the middle order without the rested Virat Kohli and Rishabh Pant. India had decided to hand Ruturaj Gaikwad a game, so Rohit Sharma dropped down the order to allow continuity with Ishan Kishan as an opener, with Shreyas Iyer given the key No. 3 slot.

“I think we need a certain level of flexibility in T20s, that again has been communicated to a lot of the players,” Dravid explained. “There has been conversation around the fact that we need to be flexible, we can’t be predictable. We need to sometimes have the left-right combinations.

“All the stats and data tell you the value of left-right combination, left-arm spinner to left-hand batsman – we all know that stuff. We want our players to be flexible, and that we may need to move them around, and I think they’ve responded really well. They want to embrace that, understand the value of that, and so, yes, certainly through that middle order, it’s an area we want to improve and get better at.”

One of the focus areas Dravid has particularly been pleased with is the team’s tempo. Twice in the series, where dew has dictated decisions at the toss, India were put in to bat. Twice, they put themselves in match-winning positions after putting up scores of 186 and 184. This is exactly the kind of luck that didn’t go India’s way at the T20 World Cup, which was nearly reduced to a ‘win the toss, win the match’ kind of a scenario.

“Especially while batting first, we want to set good totals,” Dravid said. “Sometimes you need that flexibility when you want to take down certain bowlers or combinations or scenarios, you need to have potentially the right people batting in a really short game. Sometimes five or six balls, with the right batsman against the right bowler, can actually be the difference in the game.”

In calling for flexibility, Dravid also spoke of the thin line between giving as many players as possible an opportunity in the lead-up to the 2022 T20 World Cup, and over experimenting.

“The times we live in, it’s never easy,” he said. “There’s a time frame where you can say we want to freeze in this team. We don’t want to cast our net too wide and we don’t want to restrict ourselves to 15 players as well. We saw today with Deepak [Chahar] getting injured, Suryakumar Yadav getting hit on his hand, the Covid issues we had in Ahmedabad – where we couldn’t play three-four players.

“We want to ensure that by the time we get to the World Cup, some of our young players have played 15-20 games. Give Rohit a chance to bowl them, bat them in positions he wants to. It also needs to be balanced around the fact that we need to have a few back-ups if injuries happen. They can happen with times like these with bubbles, quarantines. We are seeing injuries.

“We are pretty clear with the balance and combination we want. We are just structuring the team around it and balancing individual workloads as well. We have a fair idea between Rohit, the selectors, the management, about the kind of skills we are looking at for Australia. The guys who are in the running – we want to give players a fair chance to stake their claims also. We don’t want to set ourselves in stone too early as well.”

The series marked 100 days of Dravid taking over as head coach. And the journey has already had its fair share of highs, lows and controversies. India beat New Zealand and West Indies at home across formats, and lost to South Africa in both Tests and the ODIs. Off the field, Dravid had to tide over the messy handling of the Kohli captaincy saga, and now the transitioning of the Test team with senior players such as Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha and Ishant Sharma being dropped. At different times, Dravid has fronted up and answered difficult questions.

“It’s been a learning experience,” Dravid chuckled. “I’ve learnt a lot. I am not stressed too much about the results. I want the team to get better, I want to move them in the right direction. South Africa was a reality check for us in the one-day format. In the Test format a few things could have gone our way if we had a bit of luck. It’s important to keep learning as a coach. Every day, new things crop up. I don’t expect not to make mistakes – I am going to get stuff wrong. I’ll learn, I’ll improve, and I hope to do that. I hope the team wants to do that. We want to keep going forward.

“We’ve learnt something this series – it’s not about winning. We are happy to win – it’s better to win than to lose. For me, it’s been nice to see the younger guys come through. West Indies are a tough team to beat in T20 cricket. They are very strong team. They have got people lower down the order who can take the game away from you.

“We have had to bat first twice, bowl in wet conditions twice – these are the things that tell you we are moving in the right direction. Some of the pieces are coming together. We are far from a finishing piece. We want to be really competitive in Australia and we have to execute better.”

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo


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