Out of his comfort zone

Captain Dhoni might be forced to go with five bowlers in the first one-dayer

Written by Devendra Pandey | Hambantota | Published:July 21, 2012 1:22 am

With the world-famous Bundala and Yala national parks,not to forget the sacred city of Kataragama,located within touching distance,Hambantota on the south eastern coast of the country is a world away from the hustle-bustle of capital Colombo. This is a part of Sri Lanka more suitable for adventure-seekers and wild-life addicts than a game of bat and ball. Hambantota’s Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium,however,is where the Indian team are set to kick-off their limited-overs campaign on Saturday with the first of five ODIs.

Around 45 minutes from the stadium lies the Peacock Beach Hotel,which has hosted Mahendra Singh Dhoni & Co ever since they flew down here from the capital. Scenic and serene,and housing a beauteous beach of its own,this is the perfect vantage point for all the adventure that the city has to offer-and an apt tag-line in ‘where the jungle meets the sea’. It,however,took the hotel management a lot of heart and work to rebuild the property and bring it back to its glory days after the tsunami had left it in total disarray eight years ago.

It was while seated in one of the Peacock’s spacious and bedizened rooms on Friday that the Indian skipper spoke of restructuring,though of a totally different nature. And one that hasn’t been brought about by any tragic circumstances.

In his five years at the helm of India’s limited-overs team,one trait that has been uniform about Dhoni’s captaincy is his unwillingness to go into a 50-over contest with five specialist bowlers. The World Cup winner has always preferred,instead,to go with a long batting line-up,which includes a number of part-time spinners with the ability to fulfill the fifth bowler’s quota. In fact,in only five out of his 122 matches as skipper has Dhoni not had one of Yuvraj Singh,Ravindra Jadeja or Yusuf Pathan doing the dirty work for him. The anxiety in his tone as he spoke about having to adopt an unnatural team policy — involving five specialist bowlers — going into the opening ODI therefore was understandable.

“We don’t have a real part-timer here. Like a Yuvraj could bowl four or five overs,and even if he had an off-day,we had Jadeja to fill the rest of the overs. It was a great help as you could rotate the bowlers and get the 10 overs out of them,” explained Dhoni.

Though Dhoni will not have the cushion of a Yuvraj,who picked up 15 wickets and starred with the ball during the World Cup,or a Jadeja over the next few weeks,he still will have the option of throwing the ball to the likes of Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina. Or even Virender Sehwag for that matter.

‘Catch-22’

Raina in fact averages three-and-a-half overs whenever he’s bowled in an ODI innings under Dhoni. Rohit,meanwhile,bowls around three overs per innings,while Sehwag,who has been underbowled by Dhoni mainly as a result of a chronic shoulder problem,too has averaged around four overs under the man from Ranchi. But relying solely on this lot will not be an option against Mahela Jaywardene & Co,insisted Dhoni.

“The catch-22 situation is that if we only play four bowlers,the rest will have to be bowled by Viru,Rohit and Raina. And they will certainly be targeted by the experienced Sri Lankan batsmen,” he said.

Dhoni,however,believe that the inclusion of Irfan Pathan as the injured Vinay Kumar’s replacement did bolster his team’s overall strength,and provided the visitors with a perfect candidate for the fifth bowler’s slot.

“That way,we can play two spinners along with three fast bowlers as Irfan can contribute with the bat too,” said Dhoni. He,however,was quick to add,“But we are still not decided on our XI. We still need to know whether this will be our best combination.”

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