Over the past decade, the Indian cricket team’s approach to tactics, selection and playing objectives has been increasingly progressive. It wasn’t uncommon in the past for players to maintain spots in the team because of a self-imposed sense of entitlement. Also common was the assumed leeway granted to a batsman approaching a milestone – even if it may affect the outcome of the match or momentum of the team.
MS Dhoni was one of the first to soothingly probe this mindset – he planted the seeds of change but ultimately succumbed to them in the latter parts of his career (persistence with Mohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Murali Vijay, Ravindra Jadeja a case in point), but Virat Kohli, spurred by the exuberance of youth and the confidence of having the support of a veteran like Anil Kumble, has taken an extremely aggressive ‘team first’ approach which has resulted in a different Test line-up for every match for over a year.
Some of the pros and cons of this approach are highlighted in the following slides.
Pro: Pitch and opposition-specific specialists
One of the biggest advantages of the ‘horses for courses’ theory is, quite literally, the benefit of having horses ideal for a particular course. In the past, no one would’ve blinked an eye if India had stuck to a bowling line-up filled with two spinners and two fast bowlers for every kind of match. But it’s important to blink eyes now, given the vagaries of competitiveness that have now engulfed the gentlemen’s game.
A green pitch that would be a swing bowler’s delight warrants a minimum of three fast bowlers to sustain probing bowling partnerships – this would mean for teams heading in with four bowlers that a sacrifice would have to be made in one of their established spinners. But is the player’s ego more important than the team’s success?
Pitches and match conditions apart, this theory is, at times, applied to the opposition line-up as well. It would be a good idea to include left-handed batsman to create the rhythm-unsettling left-right combination, or left-arm off-spin or a leg-spinner for a team full of right-handed batsmen.
It’s important in this scenario to create a crystal clear culture of understanding – where no player feels unjustly treated for having being dropped. If it works, it would create a confident squad of 14-15 players that would always feel like they belong in the team, but are constantly shuffled for the sake of unsettling oppositions.
Con: Loss of stability
Clarity and effective communication can only take you to a certain point. Sometimes it hurts to have a capricious line-up, especially because players are not allowed to settle into roles comfortable for them.
While each player or team is known to experiment from time to time, one of the reasons why the Australian golden era was indeed golden was because all the players had well-defined roles. Michael Bevan wasn’t expected to open the innings, and no one batted an eye if Matthew Hayden got out cheaply in an attempt to dominate the bowling opposition.
The stability in team composition and tactics brings a sense of confidence to every player’s approach. If a player is brought in for specific matches, at times he may find a need to play a certain way, which might be detrimental to the momentum of the match, just to solidify his place in the playing eleven.
Pro: Opportunity to start afresh
Many teams have completely different ODI, T20 and Test line-ups, along with a different captain for each format. While this can have multiple negatives (see next slide), if done right it can also result in massive benefits for the team.
Rewind back to the horrendous 2014 tour of England for India – Suresh Raina made a bold statement about how ODIs would be much different from the Tests. A sparkling century by Raina himself immediately washed away the ghosts of the past and India found its mojo.
The England ODI and T20 team under Eoin Morgan often plays a vibrant, scintillating brand of cricket in complete contrast to the Test team led by Alastair Cook. This allows them to approach every series with a fresh mindset and ensures that bad performances in Tests don’t influence future ODI matches.
The West Indies T20 team had a similar fresh burst at the T20 World Cup in early 2016, far superior to their performances in the Test arena.
Con: Loss of momentum
The opportunity to start afresh can also result in a loss of momentum. For example, Ishant Sharma starts hitting his rhythm midway through a series – after having spent a few months away from the international circuit. Right after the Test series, he is replaced by Jasprit Bumrah in the ODIs, who has also spent a few months away from international cricket.
The lack of match practice and extended breaks that format-specialist players get can prove to be hazardous to a team’s chances – especially in major tournaments where they’re expected to be at their best from the first game itself.
Ajinkya Rahane has to constantly prove himself in the shorter formats, which can destroy his confidence in the longer format and also create some doubt in his mind.
A team that works like a well-oiled machine would lose major chinks with every series, and the captain would have to repeatedly rehash tactics and past experiences to get the new players up to speed.
On a lighter note, this theory can provide a truckload of entertainment for the fans. The inclusion of specialists raises the competitiveness of each game and adds several subtle nuances to the drama of sporting competition.
Kieron Pollard or Glenn Maxwell could win you a T20 match with a barrage of towering sixes – the fact that their techniques are found lacking in the Test arena doesn’t really matter at the time they are smashing balls all over the park.
Spectators are treated to cricket of the highest quality, played by the best players possible for that match. Each game, each session is a tussle of skills and the teams that emerge victorious are the ones that truly deserve to.