‘We’re going to back you to the core’

Looking ahead to the 2024 World Cup and standing in as T20I captain for three games against Sri Lanka for now, Hardik Pandya’s message to his young team is clear: “go out there and express [yourself], we’re going to back you to the core.”

Hardik takes over captaincy in the absence of regular leader Rohit Sharma, who will take back captaincy for the ODIs. Even though it’s not clear yet who India’s captain at the next T20 World Cup will be, Hardik assessed India’s situation in T20s by saying that there was nothing wrong with their approach in the lead-up to the tournament.

India had adopted a new approach in the format when Rohit took over captaincy and Rahul Dravid became the new head coach: they started getting much quicker off the blocks in the powerplay, Rohit himself changed his approach at the top, and most of India’s batters were batting with an intent of scoring faster. Except that in Australia, the bounce and pace was not to India’s liking, and they went back to their old template of setting a base and then building on it.

“You see, I think before the [T20] World Cup, I don’t think we did anything wrong,” Hardik said in Mumbai, a day before the series opener against Sri Lanka. “Our template, approach, everything was the same. Yes, in the World Cup, things did not go how we wanted. And I think our approach was not the same – what it was before the World Cup. What we have noticed and told the boys is that just go out there and express [yourself], which they will do. And it’s up to us that how we back them.

“What we have said is that we’re going to back you to the core. All the players have that support from my side that I’m going to back them to the core. Who are here, these are the best cricketers in the country, that’s the reason they are here. So, I have to make them believe that, which is a fact as well. For me, it’s important that how can I make them feel that they’re the best of their business. And if I can get that thing done, and can get that confidence in them, then I don’t think that they will have any problem in international cricket. I think they will flourish and have amazing careers ahead.”

Hardik echoed Rohit’s words from a year before the 2022 World Cup when he and Dravid had given their players “assurance of going out and expressing” themselves. With the next T20 World Cup only a year and a half away, Hardik did not go into the team’s plans in detail but said there was not much time to experiment for now as there are only six T20Is before IPL 2023.

“Obviously, the plans are set. We are looking to play in a certain way, which we will,” Hardik said without elaborating. “Before IPL only six games are there, so we don’t have much time to do a lot of things but going forward we will keep creating new plans and see which are the plans which are working for us. And going forward just make sure everyone gets ample opportunities and just that on the right time when needed just see what we need to do.”

Being the hosts and 3-0 winners of the last time these two teams played a bilateral T20I series – in early 2022 in India – Hardik implied they had an upper hand in home conditions, and wasn’t looking to settle any kind of score after their loss to eventual champions Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup.

“No, we’re not looking to settle anything [after the Asia Cup loss],” Hardik said with a smile. “We want to play good cricket. Yes, we will make them feel like we’re in India, don’t worry about that, I assure and promise you they will feel that they’re playing an international team and that too India in India. So from my boys and my side, we’re going to be clear. We don’t need to go and sledge them, our body language is enough for them to feel a little intimidated which we will do, I promise you.”

India will field a new-look squad with Suryakumar Yadav the vice-captain in T20Is, and several senior players either unavailable or rested. Three uncapped players – Rahul Tripathi, Shivam Mavi and Mukesh Kumar – also have a chance to make their international debuts.

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