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NZ vs Ind, 1st T20I

VVS Laxman would like to see India play an aggressive form of white-ball cricket in New Zealand, but he also hopes that the young batting group will show sufficient game acumen and situational awareness at the same time.

“In T20 cricket it’s important to be aggressive,” Laxman said on the eve of the T20I opening in Wellington, “and we’ve got the guys who have this ability to express themselves. So that’s the message from the captain and myself: be aggressive, but also focus on circumstances and situations, and use that experience.

“Yes, our regular top order of Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Virat Kohli is not there, but the players who have been selected have played a lot of international cricket, especially T20 cricket.”

Laxman, who replaced the rested Rahul Dravid after India’s T20 World Cup campaign where they lost in the semi-finals. also spoke of the need for specialists in white-ball cricket in the future.
“There’s certainly a lot of cricket being played, there’s no doubt about that,” he said, referring to India selecting a young squad for the tour. “India is lucky to have so many players to choose from. As a member of the team management and selection committee, you have to take into account when to give breaks to certain players. Breaks are important not only to rejuvenate physically, but also mentally.”

“India is lucky to have such a bank, a pool of players to choose from. I think that will be the case in the future, especially in white-ball cricket, you need specialist players. In the future you will have a lot more T20 specialists in T20s but managing their workload and choosing players from the pool we have is a boon that Indian cricket has.”

Laxman also gave a loud endorsement of Hardik Pandya’s leadership credentials, having teamed up with him on the Ireland tour earlier this year. Before that, Hardik led the unheralded Gujarat Titans to a title win in their first season with the IPL.

Hardik’s mature leadership, selection and decision-making under pressure earned him praise from several quarters at the time. Now there is a growing chorus in Indian cricket circles about the need to give him the T20I captaincy ahead of the next 20-over World Cup in 2024.

“He’s a fantastic leader,” Laxman said. “We’ve seen what he’s done in Gujarat in the IPL. Someone taking the lead role himself in the first year and winning the cup is no mean feat. I’ve spent time with him from the Irish series onwards. He’s not only tactically good, but also very calm on the pitch, which is very important when you play at the highest level, because there will be situations where you will be under pressure, then as a leader you have to be calm.

“But also his presence in the dressing room and his work ethic are exemplary. The way he leads the field is fantastic. He is a player’s captain; he is very approachable. All the players trust him, and that’s something I like about him as captain. He leads by example on and off the pitch.”

Among those he’s excited about is Shubman Gill, the format’s only uncapped member on the 16-man T20I team. In many ways, Gill returns to where it all began. It was in New Zealand that Gill introduced himself to the world with a Player of the Tournament performance during India’s title-winning run in the Under-19 World Cup in 2018, making his ODI debut exactly one year later. Now a T20I debut beckons.
Coincidentally, Gill also played a key role in Hardik’s Titans winning the IPL title. He was their second highest run catcher, making 483 runs in 16 at bats with a strike rate of 132.32. In ODIs, he has scored three half-centuries and a century in nine innings since July 2022; the kind of form that is expected to make him a backup opener as India progresses to next year’s Over-50 World Cup.

“It is very clear that he is one of the most talented players India has,” said Laxman. “In the opportunities he has had at the highest level, he has shown what a class player he is. Slowly and gradually he is becoming a very consistent performer, a match winner. He has a great future ahead of him.”

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