To give a spin to the old saying “no news is good news”, no tour is good news.
The Indian team not traveling to Zimbabwe for three ODIs and two T20s is, perhaps, the only silver lining Mahendra Singh Dhoni has seen in his one week in this country as the dark cloud of “Banglawash” looms in the horizon.
The core of this team is running on fumes, he says, having played non-stop cricket since the tour of England last year. “Almost the same players are playing in all the tournaments. Fatigue could be a reason, I’m not saying it is the reason, but it could well be,” Dhoni said in his press conference after the series loss on Sunday night.
Not going to the African nation also eliminates a dilemma: to field a full strength squad or not. Had they gone all out and lost — and the Bangladesh series has taught them nothing if it hasn’t taught them to not take any opposition lightly — Dhoni’s position, which is still fairly secure now, would have become shaky. And had he opted out and left Virat Kohli to lead a second-string team, a thumping win — even over Zimbabwe — would have fed the clamour for the heir-apparent to be elevated to the top job across formats.
This unexpected break, then, would be much welcome for both Dhoni and the team. They can catch their breath and reflect. There is much to think and introspect. First, they need to analyse what went wrong in Bangladesh. Losing Test series’ in foreign conditions, to some extent, could be explained. At least, an explanation could be attempted. But how to elucidate losing an ODI series in the sub-continent?
The meteoric rise of Bangladesh is a valid reason, but it can’t be the only one. While Mashrafe bin Mortaza and his men have indeed played to their potential, India have at the same time punched well below their weight. Their approach to the two ODIs — in fact the whole tour — has been questionable. If self assurance ahead of a match could be measured on a scale, India’s would have fluctuated between two extremes.
They were oozing smugness ahead of the first ODI; by the time they were going into the second, the Men in Blue were facing a severe crisis of confidence.
First, the overconfidence. Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri’s aggressive posturing in the pre-departure press conference notwithstanding, India never took this tour seriously. The BCCI did appoint a high-profile committee consisting of their highest profile former cricketers, but they put the decision about the new coach on the back-burner.
Shastri was given an extension as team director, then there was an indication that he could be made the coach after the tour. What was it that the BCCI wanted to know about Shastri’s abilities over these 15 days that it hadn’t come to know in the last 10 months?
There is another point to be noted here. Dhoni and Shastri haven’t been on the same page on a few issues. Dhoni was a known Duncan Fletcher backer, while Shastri’s appointment midway through the England tour undermined the captain-coach combine. Yesterday, after another batting failure, Dhoni fondly remembered Fletcher, while also hinting that the BCCI should take its time and not appoint a coach just for the heck of it.
“At least indirectly you are saying you are missing Duncan Fletcher,” he said when asked if the team needed a coach.
“I felt he was one guy who was never really appreciated by the media. He did all the hard work. He was with the team for a long time. He went on really tough tours. (Right now) we have enough people in the support staff to take care of us. And even if the position of the coach is vacant for some time, it is okay.
“Don’t put just anybody there just because the post is vacant. Then it will have a bad impact in the long run. It takes time to make these decisions, and our team generally doesn’t have that time because we keep playing non-stop.”
But there had been a gap of well over two months between the World Cup and the Bangladesh tour. The world can’t stop just because the IPL is on. Unless they were using the IPL as the audition for the coach job, and discovered that Ricky Ponting doesn’t fit in their scheme of things.
Anyway, Bangladesh also contributed to this general air of overconfidence about the visitors. The hosts lulled them into believing they owned a pretty pathetic bowling attack by fielding one for the one-off Test. India feasted on it and went into the ODIs with an added spring in their steps, where Bangladesh were waiting in the trenches. There, they unleashed a bazooka on Dhoni & Co, a bazooka that answers by the name of Mustafizur Rahman.
The crisis of confidence
The shock loss in the first ODI didn’t wake India up as much it woke them up disoriented. A team that has made the semifinal of the World Cup barely three months ago with an all-win record, suddenly looked like a Dhaka Premier Division side up against a world beating team.
Rather than trusting their skills, India made wholesale changes for the second ODI. Out went Ajinkya Rahane, their most reliable batsman, and in came Ambati Rayudu. Dropping Rahane would have been understandable if they were replacing him with Sachin Tendulkar, but Rayudu?
Chandika Hathurusingha, Bangladesh’s coach, must have smiled and thought, ‘Aren’t they quaking in their boots?’
The logic that Dhoni gave for Rahane’s exclusion is quite frankly ludicrous. He said Rahane, a batsman from the subcontinent, wasn’t up to scratch on slow tracks. “We all felt that Ajinkya would do really well as a third opener. He needs pace. We have seen that he plays a lot better when there is pace on a wicket. Whenever he has played at No. 4 or No. 5, if the wicket is slow, then he struggles to rotate the strike freely. Especially when he is just starting his innings, he has a bit of trouble. It is not easy.
“If you see, Rohit is ideally a middle-order batsman, but for India he opens. Jinx generally opens, but for India he is batting in the middle. It is a difficult one. When we needed an opener, Rohit put his hand up, he took that opportunity. It is (now) his position and he has earned it. Ajinkya might have to wait.”
In the event, the changes that India made didn’t pay-off. Rayudu and Axar Patel played four balls between them, scoring 0 runs.
That makes the last match, a dead rubber, interesting. What changes will India make this time? Or, will hubris prevent Dhoni from making any at all?