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Maybe it was a little surprising to see debutant Sreenath Aravind bowling the last over on a nippy evening in Dharamsala. But MS Dhoni didn’t have other options. He had already bowled out his more experienced bowlers, and in any case the match was all but over by then. With seven wickets in hand and 10 runs to get in the final over, you’d always back the batting side to romp home in a T20 game. India’s poor defence was down to the collective bowling failure.
Ideally, Dhoni would have liked to have Mohammed Shami for the last over. But the Bengal fast bowler is still recovering from a knee surgery and the earliest he can hope for a return to the fold is the backend of the five-match ODI series that follows the T20 internationals. The (seam) bowling meltdown in the first match suggested that India’s limited-overs captain was missing his “best bowler”. No tearaway quick and only medium pace; looks like Dhoni is happy to follow the CSK model for this series.
He believes in taking the pace off the ball (in Indian conditions) which works for his IPL franchise. Although it’s too early to conclude the skipper has erred in his judgement in Dharamsala. Rohit Sharma defended the bowling unit on the eve of the second match here in Cuttack. “The kind of bowlers we’ve now, they’ve done well in domestic cricket and whatever international cricket they’ve played so far. They’re not too experienced. But it’s the same with the South African attack. They too are not very experienced. When you play these kind of tournaments, that’s how you grow as a cricketer. These guys know what exactly is expected from them and I’m sure they’re trying their best to come out and take wickets and be aggressive. Sometimes things don’t go your way and that’s what happened in Dharamsala.” Dhoni criticised his bowlers after the loss, saying they were “inconsistent” and failed to “execute” the plans.
Collectively, his three seamers gave away 124 runs in 11.4 overs for just one wicket. Left-arm spinner Axar Patel — preferred ahead of Amit Mishra and Harbhajan Singh — conceded 45 runs in his four overs. Only Ravi Ashwin offered quality (1/26 in four overs). The captain grumbled over the JP Duminy leg-before call that went against India, but it was part of the game. The hard fact is that India would always struggle to defend if the pitch doesn’t assist their bowlers. This takes us back to Shami’s unavailability, a fast bowler Dhoni is fond of. “Shami is one bowler who has pace and hits the right length. He has got very good seam positioning, which means he can reverse it away from right-handers,” he said earlier. This is contrary to his assessment of Umesh Yadav (also Varun Aaron), whom the captain had castigated after the ODI series loss in Bangladesh.
“We’ve been backing too many quick bowlers who haven’t been bowling well. We need to make a decision if we want quick bowlers or we want good bowlers even if they’re not quick,” Dhoni said. Aravind has only played his first game in international cricket. Bhuvneshwar has a strike-rate of 19.8 (economy 6.53) in 12 T20 internationals; very good. Mohit offers a strike-rate of 22.0 (economy 8.09) in seven T20 internationals; not bad either. But they can’t lead the charge and are better suited in supporting roles. This is where Shami’s absence is felt the most.
“Yes, Shami is a bowler for all conditions. He bowls at 140kmph, takes wickets upfront, fires yorkers at the death and reverses the ball when it gets older. He’s a complete package and Dhoni is seriously missing him. He brings balance and control to the table, which the likes of Umesh and Aaron don’t have. Dhoni has publicly said Shami is his No.1 fast bowler and he’s spot on,” former Bengal coach Ashok Malhotra, who oversaw the fast bowler’s progress, told The Indian Express.
Former India seamer Venkatesh Prasad presented a different view. “It’s hard to tell. Shami hasn’t played any cricket since the World Cup and it’s difficult to get into the groove, coming from a long injury lay-off. I agree that Shami is a more complete bowler than Umesh and Aaron, but he needs at least 100 overs in domestic cricket before returning to international cricket. I feel Ishant (Sharma) will add more balance. He bowled brilliantly in Tests in Sri Lanka and deserves a chance in the shorter formats. Ashwin is the sole wicket-taking bowler in this team and I think we need to bring in Ishant with the World T20 around the corner.” Ishant hasn’t played a T20 international since October 2013. Shami, on the other hand, has been left out of the Bengal squad for their Ranji Trophy opener against Karnataka, starting October 8.
The state selectors expect him to be available from the second game onwards. And Malhotra believes the 25-year-old won’t struggle to hit his straps.
“I don’t think the injury lay-off would prevent him from getting back his rhythm. Shami, actually, is a little different. Tell him to put in an extra shift in the nets and he would give you a skip. Give him the ball in a competitive match and you’d struggle to take it back from him. He has got such a lovely action, I don’t think the injury would force him to make technical adjustments, but he now needs to do more hard work and manage his body well.”
Three spinners needed?
For the moment, however, it won’t be a bad ploy to play three specialist spinners. Ashwin and Mishra had worked up a fine partnership in Sri Lanka and maybe the team management missed a trick by not picking the leggie for the first game.
Patel got the nod, ostensibly for his hitting prowess down the order. But he choked as Duminy launched into him. In fact, that 22-run over was the turning point of the game. Patel is young and might be short of confidence after letting it slip in Dharamsala. Will he be persisted with?
“Each team has their weaknesses and strengths. Australia have four-five bowlers who bowl at 90 miles an hour. We’ve been fortunate enough to have four bowlers who can bowl 90 miles an hour. Again, India have four to five quality spinners and we prepare accordingly for spin, especially in the subcontinent,” said South African middle-order batsman Farhaan Behardien, who had forged a match-winning partnership with Duminy in the first game.
“Our spinners are experienced. They’ve played cricket over the years to know what the right line and length we need to bowl. But we’ve to wait and see how our team management goes about it,” said Rohit.
The Barabati pitch is expected to be slower. And with the dew not expected to play a major role, India might just revert to their strength — playing three spinners.