Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s absence from the Asia Cup is a double-blow for the Indian team. His leadership has been questioned after a string of away losses, both in the longer and shorter versions. But in the sub-continent, skipper Dhoni enjoys a healthy record. His replacement, the talented Virat Kohli, isn’t expected to be weighed down by the extra-responsibility because of the familiar conditions and short duration of this not-too-important tournament.
So while Dhoni, the captain, might not be missed much, the loss of Dhoni, the batsman, will surely pinch India more. Replacing Dhoni in the playing XI will be Dinesh Karthik. He is a safe option behind the stumps but it will be interesting to see where he bats in the new-look Indian batting line-up. If the team management are not in a mood to tweak the batting order, Karthik could occupy the vacant No.6. slot behind Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Ambati Rayudu.
Former India captain Dilip Vengsarkar doesn’t want the team management to take a knee-jerk reaction to Dhoni’s absence. “Dhoni is priceless in limited-overs format, both with his batting and captaincy. But Karthik is a very good replacement. He’s a very smart cricketer who can change his game as per situation. And he can hit sixes as well. He has been given an opportunity and I believe he will perform,” Vengsarkar said.
Former chief selector Kiran More said that a player of Dhoni’s caliber would certainly leave a void but Karthik was, at least, a like-for-like replacement. “Yes, Dhoni will be missed because he’s a special player in the shorter format. But Karthik’s strike rate (73.64) suggests he, too, can score quickly. He can bat in the final overs as well,” he said.
Statistics tell a very different story. Karthik has so far played 23 ODI, of which, he has opened in eight games at an average of 40. Rest of the times he has batted at No.7 and his average is an absymal 19. Besides, during his stunning show for Mumbai Indian in the last Indian Premier League, he had opened the innings. So wouldn’t Karthik be more suited up the order?
The team would most certainly not disturb a set batting order for a player who might not even be in the team once Dhoni is fit again. Still, Karthik does give the team more options. In case the wicket-keeper bats up the order, Rohit Sharma could move into the No.6 slot. Shamra’s IPL hitting in the final overs proves this point, but dropping him down the order will see the team sacrifice a set and successful opening combination.
The only other option is to make Ajinkya Rahane open, which is not the preferred alternative.
More rules out Rahane’s promotion. “He has a decent strike rate but his game is meant for the top order. Don’t think he can up the ante when the asking rate hovers around 12-15. He will go to the Asia Cup under pressure. He hasn’t scored runs in the last few ODIs and that can happen. The Asia Cup gives him the opportunity to get back to form. On his day he can even send the ball flying to all part of the ground. But he certainly doesn’t give the kind of stability that Dhoni provides down the order,” he says.
This means India will have to tweak their batting up. The ODI templates needs power-hitters at No. 5 and 6 to make the second power-play count and India now have only one of that type in Ravindra Jadeja.