“We have got eleven to choose from, and all eleven are playing,” Rahul Dravid, the stand-in coach for the limited-overs tour of Sri Lanka as Ravi Shastri was touring England with the Test team, had said ahead of the second T20I against the hosts in 2021. COVID-19 gripped the Indian camp and the team was in a crisis. Putting together a Playing XI was a challenge and the visitors could only manage to field five specialist batsmen for the fixture. The Shikhar Dhawan-led unit had a depleted Playing XI in the last fixture too and lost it to settle for 1-2 result going in the hosts’ favour. Dhawan was the first captain of the senior team Dravid worked with, and certainly not the last.
The dotted lines were signed and Dravid was confirmed as full-time coach to replace outgoing Ravi Shastri, who had announced his departure ahead of the T20 World Cup. November 2021, New Zealand toured India for T20Is and Tests and Dravid worked with not one, not two but three skippers. Rohit led the side in the T20Is, Rahane led the team in the first Test before Kohli returned to lead for the final match of the series. Still early days with the senior side, and Dravid had already worked with four captains. Something similar was in store for Rahul during the tour of South Africa. Kohli, the original skipper, led the side in the first Test before a niggle ruled him out of the second and the captaincy blazer was passed on to KL Rahul (Rohit was injured and didn’t tour), who became Dravid’s captain No.5.
Cut to June 2022. Dravid is training with the KL Rahul-led Indian squad at the Arun Jaitley Stadium in New Delhi ahead of the five-T20I series which gets underway on 9 June. On the eve of the match, the scheduled presser is delayed and in comes an announcement. “KL Rahul and Kuldeep Yadav ruled out, Rishabh Pant to lead Team India,” read a BCCI release. In little over six months as head coach of the national team, Dravid met his captain No.6 in Pant. The same Pant he had seen grow into a match-winner, across formats, from close quarters. The same Pant who was the vice-captain in Dravid’s first major assignment with the U-19 team, the U-19 World Cup in 2016.
Pant and Kotla
The script is not ideal but Pant wouldn’t be complaining. Walking out for the toss in the Blue jersey at the venue where he played most of his cricket in early days. The very venue where he made his first-class debut back in 2015 against Bengal. He would take it with both hands!
“It is a very good feeling, did not come under very good circumstances but at the same time I am feeling happy. I would like to thank the BCCI for giving me this opportunity to lead the Indian side. I will try to make most out of it. Thank you to all my well-wishers for supporting me in my journey through my thick and thin of my cricketing career. I will look to make it a base and keep improving and keep making my life better and better each and every day,” said Pant during a press conference ahead of the series opener.
“It is a great feeling, especially getting an opportunity to lead in your home town. I will try to make most of it. I think as a captain, it will help me a lot (leading in the IPL) because when you are doing the same thing again and again, you improve. I am someone who keeps learning from his mistakes and I think it will help me in the coming days,” he added.
Focus shifts on the job
Captaincy, injury, announcements are all done and dusted. Focus will soon shift to action in the middle when Pant leads the team out against a very formidable South African unit. Unlike India, South Africa are fielding a full-strength squad and have presence of players who featured in the recently-concluded IPL. Quinton de Kock, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje, Marco Jansen, Aiden Markaram, Dwaine Pretorious, Tristan Stubbs and Rassie van der Dussen were all part of the tournament and have been in the country long enough to not face any acclimitisation or adapting-to-the-conditions troubles.
For India, it is a rotational squad with Kohli, Rohit, Bumrah, Shami and Ravindra Jadeja missing, but this serious could well set the template which the team is likely to follow in the build-up to the T20 World Cup later this year. Unfortunate that Kuldeep, making a return to the squad on back of a brilliant IPL, will not get game-time but it’s a good opportunity for the likes of Axar Patel and Ravi Bishnoi to present a case when a chance comes their way in the five fixtures. In the batting department, onus will be on likes of Ishan Kishan, Shreyas Iyer, Ruturaj Gaikwad and Deepak Hooda to grab these opportunities and put up a consistent show.
Pandya, the all-rounder
No matter how hard one tries, it’s difficult to ignore Pandya, the all-rounder, in build-up to a fixture. The 28-year-old had a brilliant IPL and was seen spending a lot of time with Dravid at the Arun Jaitley Stadium. The Indian coach kept a close eye on the all-rounder when he bowled during the practice sessions. If Pandya manages to keep himself bowling-fit for the next four months, it’s going to be a huge plus for India at the T20 World Cup. Having Pandya’s all-round abilities on the table not only adds bite to the bowling but also allows the management to explore the possibility of having more options in the ranks without compromising on the depth in batting.
Come Thursday, India, as the purists say, would want to focus on the process and hit the right notes in the five-T20I affair against a side packed with T20 specialists. Dravid on the other hand would hope there are no last-minute surprises (read Rahul and Kuldeep injury), and would certainly hope to not meet his captain No.7. Not in this series at least.
For all the latest Sports News Click Here