Doing it for Virat Kohli might involve some serious six-hitting

Why haven’t India won the World T20 since their first, unexpected, win in 2007? Fourteen years is a long time. In 2011, they won the 50-over World Cup at home, “doing it for Sachin.” It was Sachin Tendulkar’s sixth and last tournament, and the team was determined to give him a memorable send-off.

Already, in an echo of that, there is talk of doing this one “for Virat”. Virat Kohli is stepping down from captaincy in the format after this.

That year, 2007, was a strange one for Indian cricket. In March, they bowed out of the 50-over World Cup in the early stages. The photograph following that defeat, of the senior cricketers with eyes swollen, emotions on every muscle was a moving one. Six months later came the World T20, a new World Cup in a new format and the seniors withdrew from the team.

There were two reasons for this. India didn’t then think much of T20, echoing the historical lack of initial interest in the 50-over format. No one gave India a chance and although the seniors didn’t think it might be emotionally as draining, they figured it was a young man’s game. So India went in with a team whose average age was 23, and whose new captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni was 26.

And it worked. In the final, with Pakistan needing 13 in the last over, Dhoni called up the inexperienced Joginder Sharma to bowl. Misbah-ul-Haq hit a six and then overreached himself in trying to scoop to leg. A nation held its breath while the ball descended into the hands of S. Sreesanth.

Watching India’s progress was an 18-year old boy named Virat Kohli. “It had a huge impact on my career,” he said recently, echoing the sentiment expressed by the previous generation of Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble and V.V.S. Laxman who had been inspired by India’s win in the 1983 World Cup.

IPL was established

India’s win changed the face of cricket. The IPL was established the following year, further consolidating India’s position as the centre of the cricketing universe. At the time, the promoter expressed as many positives of the IPL as he could dream up.

And one of them was the way it would train Indian teams for the World T20, providing players ready made for the world stage. It sounded plausible then, but where have India fallen short?

The first and obvious answer is that with domestic T20 series being played around the world, every country now has both the players and the experience.

The fact that the first six tournaments were won by five different countries seems to suggest that there has been a levelling off of relative strengths. The fewer the overs, the more open the tournament.

In 2016, India tried to upend the fundamental theory of batting in T20 — that hitting sixes matters. They lost to the West Indies in the semifinals despite Kohli’s unbeaten 89 off 47 balls (one six) because the West Indies hit nearly three times as many sixes. India’s bowlers bowled crucial no-balls (twice taking wickets off them) and the West Indies needing 109 in the last 10 overs made it comfortably.

Carlos Brathwaite’s four successive sixes in the final over (off Ben Stokes) that gave the West Indies their second title was further confirmation of the theory. In T20 cricket, sixes win matches.

In the last World Cup, the West Indies hit a six every 16.3 balls against the Top 7 teams; the rate for the other teams in the top seven was a six every 22.5 balls. Increasingly, boundaries, and particularly sixes decide the result. This is an area India need to work on. Since the 2016 T20 World Cup, India have been striking a six every 17.4 balls, the West Indies at the rate of 13.5.

The story of T20 cricket is the story of the steady drop in balls-per-sixes, from 28 in 2009 to 20 in 2018.

Not a chancy shot

The six is no longer viewed as a chancy shot, but fundamental to success in the format.

It is a great percentage shot, something that Chris Gayle was probably the first to realise and act upon. Training in power-hitting is routine in T20 cricket now.

As statistics show, India have realised the importance of six-hitting, but need to work on the frequency. A three-ball 18 can often be the difference between teams, often superior even to a 35-ball 50. T20 is the game for ‘sixialists’, the specialists whose job it is to only hit sixes.

India go into the tournament as favourites. It is not a position they are unaccustomed to. And they have in their corner the man who took them to victory in 2007, Dhoni, now in the team as ‘mentor’. All bases are probably covered.

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