MS Dhoni might have paved the way for India’s victory with an unbeaten 92 in the second cricket ODI, but the skipper preferred to credit his bowlers for the series-levelling win against South Africa.
Going through the toughest phase of his international career, Dhoni produced a captain’s knock to guide India to a respectable 247 for nine and then showed good leadership acumen with smart bowling changes to bundle out South Africa for 225 in 43.4 overs.
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“What was important for us was to get early breakthroughs and that was provided by the spinners. I felt the spinners bowled well on a wicket where there was less assistance for them. Later on the fast bowlers took wickets at crucial intervals. Overall, it was a complete team effort,” Dhoni told reporters at the post-match press conference.
“It is such a victory where the bowlers’ contribution is more than the batsmen. Some bowlers contributed by scoring runs as well. In a score like 250 if your bowlers contribute 40 odd runs it means a lot,” he said.
A wide range of strokes were on display as Dhoni answered his critics with an unbeaten knock that came off 86 balls.
‘Captain Cool’ batted with tail-enders with a calm head as India scored 82 runs off the last 10 overs to put on a board a decent total, which at one stage looked impossible having slumped to 165 for seven in 40 overs.
Talking about his match-winning knock, Dhoni said he was in two minds after being left stranded with the tail but decided to take the innings as long as possible.
“It was an opportunity to make runs. Though I scored runs and we won the game but usually you don’t want such an opportunity to come. You want your top-order to perform. I felt we needed partnerships at that point of time. Once we lost (Ajinkya) Rahane and a few other wickets, I was thinking to play the big shots as I was not sure how long the lower order will survive with me.
“But that’s when I said no and looked to play a few more deliveries, looked to play 50 overs. The good thing with batting first is whatever you score the opposition has to score those runs. Keeping it simple was important and that’s what we did,” Dhoni said after scoring his 60th ODI half century.
The Indian skipper said 247 was gettable at the placid Holkar Stadium wicket.
“We managed to get 247 which I don’t think was a par score in this wicket but definitely something which we could look to defend. But it was not a safe score.”
There was tremendous pressure on Dhoni both as a batsmen and captain as critics were gunning for his head before the start of the game.
Asked Dhoni about the pressure, he said: “There is always pressure when you play for the Indian cricket team. The expectation levels keep going up and it does put a lot of pressure on the individuals. I have never played an international match where we were not under pressure.”
Dhoni expressed his desire to bat up the order but said he just can’t fit himself there with the likes of Rahane and Virat Kohli available.
“Once I left Test cricket I thought now I want to enjoy my ODI cricket. I want to bat up the order. But when I come to the dressing room and see my team I find it very difficult to promote myself. You think about who is going to bat at No.5, 6 and 7,” he said.
India dropped leg-spinner Amit Mishra for Axar Patel and Dhoni termed the decision a tactical one.
“No. 7 is a very crucial position. Even if you see in today’s game Mishra was our best bowler in previous game but we had to drop him for a batsman in that spot. Axar gives us slight edge than Mishra because of his batting. In modern day you can’t play with six batsmen and five bowlers. You need someone who can bat at No.7,” the skipper said.
Dhoni rated the victory very highly, especially after defeats in the T20s and the first ODI in Kanpur.
“I think it’s a very good victory for us. A lot of time you play good cricket for 80-90 per cent of the game but still end up losing. This win was very important for us. It’s also good to see our bowlers defend 250 odd runs on a wicket which was good to bat on. The fast bowlers’ spell in the middle was crucial,” he said.
The captain said Rahane will continue to bat No.3 and Kohli at No.4 as it provides more balance to the team.
“The batting order looks much more balanced (with Rahane at No.3 and Kohli at No.4). Rahane I felt is somebody who can do damage at the top of the innings. He is a quality player. He is batting with a lot of freedom. The more he spends time batting at No.3 he will evolve as a batsman.
“Virat is somebody who can bat at No.4. It will be fantastic to have him at No.3 but the strength of the team lies in Rahane at No.3 and Virat at 4. Virat is somebody who can bat at any slot. The kind of talent he has in 30 overs he can score big hundreds,” Dhoni said.
He also backed opener Shikhar Dhawan to strike form soon.
“At times openers’ form go up and down but that left-right combination really helps you out. Yes, in the last few games he has not done according to the benchmark he has set for himself but it shouldn’t be a big problem. He just needs to convert the 20s into big innings,” Dhoni concluded.