Mahendra Singh Dhoni is happy that team’s premier off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin has pulled himself out of a form slump and has become “an asset” for the Indian cricket team.
“Ashwin is a thinking cricketer. His performance went down a bit and he was criticised for doing too many things, but I am glad he has come back well and he is an asset. I have used him in all slots – from first to ten overs or in death. Good for me he makes my job slightly easier when my fast bowlers did not do well. I have relied upon him. He’s been great,” Dhoni was all praise for Ashwin ahead of team’s departure for the limited overs tour of Australia.
Dhoni also said outside the sub-continent, it will be a contest for one spot among the three spinning all-rounders — Ashwin, Axar Patel and Ravindra Jadeja.
“I am glad you said conditions are different for the spinners’ performance in subcontinent and outside. (Ravi) Ashwin is our premier spinner and it is good to have (Ravindra) Jadeja back. The two spinning all-rounders will be competing for a spot. Axar (Patel) has also played well in domestic cricket.”
The skipper welcomed fast bowler Mohammed Shami’s return to the side after undergoing an extensive rehabilitation programme post knee surgery. But he was also cautious as he feels that his workload needs to be monitored.
“Shami has been a very good bowler in seaming conditions. He has worked hard on his rehabilitation and played in domestic cricket. We will see how well we can manage his work load with the World T20 Cup round the corner.”
Talking about upcoming World T20s, Dhoni is satisfied that India will play three T20 Internationals Down Under as they start their preparations for the marquee event.
“Australia is a competitive side. When you compete against Australia, you always gain more experience. And with a few youngsters around, it will be interesting to see them perform,” he said.
“It’s good to have 3 T20s after the ODI series as we have ample opportunity to try different players in different slots. Then we will be in a better position to finalise the playing XI at the start of the T20 World Cup. It’s an exciting time and a very important three and half months are ahead,” said wicket-keeper batsman.
In absence of Suresh raina, who has been dropped from the ODI side, Dhoni said either Gurkeerat Singh Mann or Manish Pandey will get to play in the ODI series.
“One of the youngsters – Gurkeerat or Manish Pandey – will get to play at either Nos 5, 6 or 7. We have four very good top order batsmen (Shikhar, Rohit, Kohli and Rahane). No. 6 or 7 is the most difficult spot for any batter.
“In the past we have tried many people but very few have succeeded in that position. That’s why Suresh Raina was good. Depending on how well they play, we will evaluate. I feel No 5 is good slot for a newcomer.”
He also said the extra fielder outside the circle has made it difficult for the teams to go hammer and tongs in the last 10 overs and chase over 80 runs as was the case earlier.
“I feel bowlers have adapted better to rule changes. When they did not have the extra fielder they adopted new strategies which will help them now with one extra fielder available. Most bowlers are not getting hit in the last 10 overs as was the case earlier. That’s why you don’t have to leave too many runs to chase in the last 10 overs.”
He recalled India’s good show Down Under at last year’s World Cup, where the team lost to eventual champions Australia in the semis.
“The last time in Australia, the World Cup was a very good tournament for our team except the semi finals. It’s to spend some time there as Australia have always been a competitive side. It offers good opportunity for the newcomers to see how they make the transition from domestic cricket to international arena,” he said.
Dhoni, who has retired from Test cricket, said that the big break has helped him recharge his batteries.
“The break from cricket has helped me as I could switch off from the game for a longer period of time after retiring from Test cricket.”
On the eve of team’s departure for Australia, Dhoni was asked about retirement.
“I am a person who lives in the present and the focus right now is the Australian tour leading up to the World T20 Championships. I will think about it at the right time,” he said.