Split teams, captaincy and coaches too — give Dhoni a bigger role

What we need in the backroom are not cricket people who understand statistics, but statisticians who know cricket

It is time India began to take T20 cricket seriously. That might be a strange thing to say about a country that won the inaugural World Cup in 2007 and changed the face of the sport the following year with the IPL which remains the top tournament in the T20 world.

But things change quickly in T20, and I don’t mean just in the course of a match or an innings. What was important yesterday — Test match experience, for instance — often turns out to be a handicap. What works for one team need not work for another.

Since it is a new format, less than two decades old, almost every match, every change, every nuance is recorded. Patterns can be discerned. Changes can sometimes be anticipated.

There are things happening in T20 tournaments around the world that need to be understood or at least acknowledged.

It doesn’t matter if Indian cricketers are not allowed to play in these, but we need a team that analyses threads and checks how these changes apply to India. It is a full-time job, and needs a full-time team of analysts who focus on nothing else.

Crucial difference

What we need in the backroom are not cricket people who understand statistics, but statisticians who know cricket. The difference is not subtle, and it may be crucial.

One of the features of the T20 format is that it can turn the basics of the longer game on its head — in fact it is expected to. You don’t get your eye in as a batsman, you don’t mix caution with aggression, you don’t rely on singles to upset a bowler’s rhythm, a dot-ball is more precious than a perfect delivery which is edged for four; some are cliches in the longer game.

A bowler has 24 deliveries to make his mark, a batsman sometimes even fewer. Contrarily, wickets don’t matter for a batsman, nor do boundaries matter for a bowler.

By all accounts, the nation seems to have heaved a sigh of relief that a player and personality of Rahul Dravid’s stature has been persuaded to take over as national coach. He has known many of the players from their Under-19 days, and understands the game better than most. Coaching the national team will come with its challenges though — the same players who looked up to him as teenagers would have developed egos large enough to fill a room! It is a lesson Anil Kumble learnt to his cost when he had to quit because the captain was unhappy with him.

Distinct sport

In a previous column, I made the point that India should look at T20 as a distinct form of sport and choose a captain for whom it existed even as he was growing up. India have been conservative in their approach to the format, and need to think out of the box. Having a young captain like Rishabh might be one way to go.

Another — and this is important too — would be to split not just the teams and captaincy but the coaches as well. And that’s where Mahendra Singh Dhoni would come in. Perhaps India could go one step further and appoint him not just the T20 coach, but the sole selector as well in the format.

He has the experience, is one of the greats of the format and would work best given a free hand. It is a big task, taking sole responsibility, as football coaches around the world have discovered.

But at least the lines of communication are clear.

I am not sure quite what Dhoni was doing at the recent World T20 in the UAE; international players don’t need ‘mentors’ to look after them. They need decision-makers, and Dhoni has been one of the best in the business.

This will leave Dravid free to focus on Test cricket and One-Day Internationals; he was a master of both, with over 10,000 runs in each format. T20 is becoming increasingly specialised, and calls for a specialist coach and selector, and Dhoni fits the bill well.

Not the time for ‘if onlys’

Making excuses for the Indian defeat in the UAE will only perpetuate the mistakes the team made. We cannot wallow in a series of “if onlys”. If only India had won the toss in the matches they lost. If only they hadn’t run into Shaheen Afridi so early in the tournament. If only they had been bolder in their selection. If only, if only…

It is time to forget the tournament as a bad dream, and start afresh, with a new captain, a new coach and a team of T20 players who relish playing the format. It seems ironic that the IPL is ideal preparation for all teams (not Pakistan, of course) except India!

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