Unwilling to tinker with the line-up in view of next month’s World T20, India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni on Monday said the team will prefer Suresh Raina in the No.4 slot in the series against Sri Lanka even though vice-captain Virat Kohli’s absence has opened the No.3 position.
“It did cross our minds (to use Raina at no. 3) but it will be slightly better if he (Raina) bats at the position in which he will most likely bat in the World T20,” Dhoni said at the before the first game of the three-match T20 series.
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“We need to give him that exposure as we are a team, which doesn’t play many T20Is. It’s usually one-game a series. This (three-game) series gives us the opportunity to expose him to No.4 slot for a considerable period of time. It will be more appropriate to keep him at No.4 so that he gets adjusted rather than use him at one drop and ask someone else to bat at 4,” Dhoni explained elaborately at the MCA International stadium.
Incidentally the UP batsman, a top performer in the T20 format in the IPL, will be playing his 50th T20I game on Tuesday, the second from the country after his skipper, to achieve the landmark.
At No 3, Raina has scored more runs (471 with a hundred – 101 against South Africa at Gros Islet, West Indies – to boot) in 15 games compared to No 4 position, where he has notched up 238 runs.
Looking ahead to the series, Dhoni said the Indian team has the chance to get into the groove for the more important World T20 through this series and the Asia Cup to follow later this month in Bangladesh.
“It’s only the T20 format (that India will be playing for a while). After this series there is the Asia Cup, some warm-up games and the World T20. It has given us time to get into the groove as in different formats the requirements are different.
“I feel it will give us time to adjust. The last three games in Australia (that India won for a 3-0 sweep) will also help us. And the conditions here will be exactly what we will get in the ICC World T20,” Dhoni added.
Dhoni felt the team looked well-balanced and can also bat deep with someone like Hardik Pandya coming in at No 8.
“The team looks very balanced as of now. If you give an overall look at the 15, it looks like a team that is well settled. We have the option of Hardik Pandya to be used as a seaming all-rounder. He’s a part-timer.
“Yuvraj Singh has bowled well for us and Raina can bowl off spin. It looks like a well-balanced side. We are fortunate that we can bat till No 8. If Hardik comes to bat at No 8, the batsmen higher-up (batsmen) have liberty to bat freely. And if it’s in a knock-out game, it helps.”
He did not think defending champions Sri Lanka, who have come with a depleted side without some regulars like captain Lasith Malinga and Test skipper Angelo Mathews, would be push-over, especially in the shortest format of cricket.
“What really happens in the T20 format is that the difference between teams is very narrow. What it boils down is how your match-winners are playing. You may have only one big hitter in the side, but he can take the game away in just 10-12 balls.
“We will be focusing on what we want to achieve as a side, looking at our combination and the kind of play we want to achieve. We are not looking too much at the Sri Lankan side.
“One thing is, they always play good competitive cricket and I feel it will be a good series. It’s important to keep all players fit for the T20 World Cup so that the best available are always available for selection.”
Dhoni said in T20 cricket he allows the bowlers to set the field.
“I tell the bowlers, especially in this format, that only you know about the ball you are set to bowl and accordingly you should set the field. It’s very difficult to instruct them before every ball. You have to trust them and I give them the liberty.
“If he (bowler) is going to try some variations he needs to set the field accordingly. You have to bluff the batsmen in this format constantly,” he concluded.