“Kaisa bhi wicket ho, hain toh India ka wicket! (Whatever it is, it is India’s wicket after all)” MS Dhoni smiled as he admitted being surprised by the slightly spicy Pune pitch, placing it in the context of returning from run-fests in Australia. Sometimes, acclimatisation to home conditions too makes its presence in cricket.
Pune threw a naughty wink at cricketers used to flat tracks in India on Tuesday. And yet, at the end of a day when Indian batsmen were hustled by seam movement and bounce, it felt peevish to have a go at them. After all they have just returned from fattening themselves with runs on batting paradises in Australia and who would have thought they would be ambushed at home.
One criticism could be laid on them that they didn’t adjust quickly enough and make course corrections after a horrendous start but that loses some sting considering the kind of pitches that are likely to roll their way in the lead-up and during the T20 World Cup.
However, this match also threw up another viewpoint, one that’s bound to cause some headaches for India. Even when Virat Kohli comes back, Yuvraj Singh and to an extent Suresh Raina can’t be trusted yet to pull India out of Pune-shaped holes. Even on tracks less spicy than this and certainly on pitches like this.
In a big game, even without the pitch being as tricky as this, the Indian middle order could find the task of revival difficult. They could ride on good starts without much fuss but can they pull India out of mini-crises? Luckily, there is still a month to go for the big event, and India will get a few more opportunities to iron out the middle-order muddle.
However, this performance also throws up another prism to look at. In the T20 format and considering the nature of the pitches that can be expected in general, India see more value in going with an all-out approach, as that cliché goes. And more often than not, it’s bound to be successful. Yes, Yuvraj and Raina, and possibly even Shikhar Dhawan, could have reacted better, and toned down their frenetic approach, but it doesn’t come as naturally to them.
Dhoni was asked a direct question about Yuvraj and Raina in such scenarios. Can other batsmen apart from you (Dhoni) change their game according to the pitch? “In this format we don’t need to change too much. Even if you change six balls, if you go run a ball for even six balls, the whole game can change.
If somebody scores 10 runs in two balls we say very well played. If somebody did that in 50 overs, we say hey you should have batted on. The demands of T20 are different. We will play T20 for a long time (in the immediate future). The consolidation period is from six to 10 balls. At the same time we have to look at the wicket.”
The captain’s sentiment is obviously coming from the pitches that he is expecting will be rolled out in the future, and it’s a fair call. But he has to be ready for situations where if the top order gets shot out early and his middle gets a bit wobbly and he might have to push himself up the order to guide them through.
Dhoni believes this experience will help them find a way. “It is very rare in this format that all wickets fall. Usually this doesn’t happen, especially if you bat deep I don’t think it is a bad idea to test everyone. You will find out how strong the lower order is. If till the World Cup we keep playing on the strength of our top order, then the lower order could have to bat in a crucial situation all of a sudden.”
The home leg too has started just as the Australian tour had begun, with a slightly different twist. In Australia, in the ODIs initially, the Indian batsmen couldn’t quite up their tempo to set a target that would push Australia. Here, the batsmen couldn’t quite tone down their approach to set a lower-than-usual total and not aim too high. However, in the bigger picture, this is exactly the kind of game that India needed a month before the World Cup.