Updated: October 27, 2015 10:42:24 am
IT’S no longer a captain’s headache, it’s now a migraine. Your medium-pacers are over-reliant on swing, lack the pace to push batsmen back. Your fast bowlers have the pace to rush the batsmen, but leak even more runs. You’re at the stage of your career where you want to play a more steadying hand at No.4, but there’s nobody in the lower-order to finish games. You push your No.4 to No.3, where he scores two half-centuries, and then for the next few matches, he has no fixed spot. Your tail is too pronounced with the No.7 and No.11 carrying a nearly identical batting average.
You pick the best available seaming all-rounder in the country, but you don’t have the guts to pick him because deep inside you know he’s not going to make a huge difference. You are forced to pick three spinners, regardless of whether the pitch demands it or not, because you don’t have a strike seamer who you trust. There are two bowlers in the country you do trust, but both are injured.
And then horror of horrors, you get asked ‘what went wrong’ on a day your bowlers have conceded 438 in 50 overs and your team’s been demolished by 214 runs in what was billed to be a high-profile series-decider.
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No wonder MS Dhoni was a tad miffed on Sunday night, even if his curt response did evoke laughter around the press conference room, with even the Indian captain struggling to contain a grin.
“Sir, don’t ask ‘where did we make mistakes?’ The entire game was a mistake. We have conceded nearly 450 runs and you are asking where we went wrong,” said Dhoni.
Going into the final ODI at the Wankhede Stadium, the two teams seemed to have run each other really close. But once the carnage was done with, and South Africa had created history with their first-ever bilateral ODI series victory in India, the massive gulf between the two teams was way too evident.
And even Dhoni would agree that the 3-2 score-line is quite misleading. India won two games but a closer look throws up more problems. The second of the wins came on a Chennai track which helped the spinners and the first came when South Africa lost their plot completely. It’s not that Indians were spectacularly good but that South Africans were bad. If a team needs a turner, or wants its opposition to slip up, then something is surely wrong. The truth is that, to quote Dhoni, the “team doesn’t look that settled”.
On the one hand, you have a Protea outfit which looks well-stocked in all departments while the Indians find themselves in a state of disarray. It’s not to say they lack in personnel but in ODI cricket, it’s ‘settled teams’ like South Africa who win consistently, as their record suggests.
India’s problems are so predictable, and yet almost without any clear solutions, that a captain can dread his migraine. Take Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who can look almost rudderless when he can’t swing the ball. There is almost an case of identity crisis. Once used as an out-and-out new-ball bowler who would often bowl out most of his quota in his first spell, he is now almost coaxed into over-extending himself. In an effort to expand his repertoire, he did develop yorkers and used it to a great effect in the IPL, but seems to have lost the ability to swing in non-conducive conditions. So, is he a new-ball bowler now or a end-over specialist?
That brings us to two World Cup stars, the tournament where India largely rode on the back of their seamers to reach the semi-finals. Mohit Sharma and Umesh Yadav, who excelled in Australia, have gone way over 7 runs per over ever since in the subcontinent. Dhoni summarized it well when he said, “We tried to going for fast bowlers — people who can bowl very quick (read Umesh Yadav) — but we realised they are actually giving the opposition more runs. We are better off playing with people who bowl line and length (read Mohit Sharma).” Or so he thought, but Mohit is also forced to extend himself. In his own captain’s words, he is at best “a third seamer” who is forced to play the lead role. Clearly, it’s case of bowlers unable to step up at this level. Again, Dhoni hits the nail: “If you see any other nation, in one or two years, they (fast bowlers) graduate to become their strike bowlers. We aren’t able to do that. Once you put in a lot of effort in an individual and if he doesn’t come good, then again a vacuum gets created.”
The spinners can’t be blamed much as they played their part in both the Indians wins.You are playing three spinners because you don’t have a strike seamer, but can India afford to use the same strategy outside the country, especially with the next two big ICC events scheduled to be held in England.
This bowlers dilemma isn’t the worst of things to ail Dhoni, who can point out that two of his best bowlers, R Ashwin and Mohammad Shami, were absent. What about his batsmen, though? This is the cream of the country and look at the problems facing them. Suresh Raina can’t be accommodated up the order or find his feet down, despite having played well-over 200 games. Ajinkya Rahane hasn’t been accommodated down the order nor given a space at the top. So he is neither here nor there, a reflection of team management’s lack of clarity. All this middle order woes are made to seem worse because the opener Shikhar Dhawan is going through a run drought. All this mess is affecting Dhoni the batsman also and more cruelly, showing up his waning skills as a world-class finisher. In an ideal world, in these new fielding rules of an extra fielder, Dhoni can slide up and be perfect at No. 4 but with Raina & co. Failing, and appalling strikes of the No 7 — he has tried four batsmen in that slot since the World Cup — he is forced to bat lower down.
India’s misery, and especially that of their captain’s was perfectly encapsulated by self-deprecating exchange between Dhoni and AB de Villiers on Sunday night at the end of the game. Just as Dhoni was exiting the press conference room, he bumped into the incoming de Villiers. You couldn’t quite hear what they said to each other. You didn’t have to. The expressions said them all. There was one captain with his shoulders sagging – in fact Dhoni cowered in jest, and de Villiers did all the smiling.
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