Once upon a time, India skipper MS Dhoni had the power to turn even muck into gold. He was the man who could win matches by backing his instincts when it came to decision-making and also off his own bat. The success he enjoyed was phenomenal.
But times have changed and how for Dhoni. Since June this year, it seems that the magic wand he once possessed has lost its spell. Dhoni lost the ODI series in Bangladesh in June. This was followed by the 0-2 defeat in the T20 series against South Africa. Losing two series in the subcontinent has hurt Dhoni’s reputation as a captain.
On Sunday, he will once again lead India in an ODI series — beginning in Kanpur against the Proteas. Undoubtedly, he would be under pressure to deliver as another bad series could further dent his aura.
The recent ODI failures can, in part, be put down to iffy decisions taken by Dhoni. The most baffling was the axing of Ajinkya Rahane from the batting order. Dhoni had earlier justified his decision to drop Rahane because of the batsman’s inability to rotate strike on the slower tracks in Bangladesh.
In the two T20 games against South Africa, Dhoni replaced Rahane with Ambati Rayadu. The Baroda batsman couldn’t justify his skipper’s call and returned back-to back ducks in Dharamsala and Cuttack.
Dhoni has a mind of his own but in Rahane’s case he may have to reconsider.
Wickets in Bangladesh are slow but Indian pitches are likely to be sporting. The Cuttack wicket had both bounce and pace, which could have helped Rahane’s cause.
The middle-order batsman is good in negotiating the rising ball and can play back foot strokes. Secondly, Dhoni’s own form has been under the scanner. A team needs to have a strong top-order supported by an even stronger middle-order.
With Team India undergoing transition, the middle order needs to fire. In Bangladesh, barring the third ODI in which all the top six Indian batsmen scored runs, batting has turned into a mini struggle. After Rahane was dropped, Dhoni promoted himself up the order and demoted Raina. He played Rayudu at five. This chopping and changing has not resulted in stability. Dhoni will have to ensure that all batsmen feel settled and comfortable in their positions, including himself.
Unsettled pace attack
Another factor that has hurt India’s cause in the limited-over format is the uncertainty of the second spinner and an unsettled pace bowling unit. With the consistent Mohammmed Shami still recovering from injury, the rest of the pacers have found the going tough. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron have failed to impress. Recently Dhoni had said that he doesn’t believe in express fast bowlers, who can be erratic.
Dhoni even paired Dhawal Kulkarni with Stuart Binny for new-ball duties in the third and final ODI.
On the other hand, Bhuvneshwar Kumar is struggling to swing the ball. In the last two games he has played, he has conceded eight runs an over. With no specialist bowler at the top sharing the load of picking wickets with him, Bhuvneshwar — minus his swing — is looking ordinary.
With the Green Park wicket expected to be a batting paradise, it will be interesting to see how Dhoni chooses his bowlers. Other than Bhuvneshwar, he can choose from Yadav, Mohit Sharma and Stuart Binny. In Bangladesh, he persisted with Binny in the absence of Bhuvneshwar.
Mohit is somebody who is favoured by the skipper and could be India’s third pacer, but his report card in the recent past too has shown average grades.
Ravichandran Ashwin has emerged as a match winner. Since the World Cup, Ashwin has bowled his quota with perfection, but Dhoni has struggled to find his second spinner. Ravindra Jadeja wore the tag for quite some time but after his ouster from the side, Dhoni has persisted with Axar Patel.
Patel conceded 45 in his four against South Africa in Dharamsala, and it clearly shows how badly Dhoni needs to look at another option. A left-arm spinner always holds the advantage but Patel needs to show greater promise.
With Amit Mishra in the ranks, Dhoni can add him to the attack on the Kanpur track which will offer turn. India should look to strengthen its spin department — meaning thirty overs can be taken care off.
In the T20s, South Africans have given away wickets to Indian spinners and the Proteas have never been comfortable facing spin. And with new field restrictions helping spinners, Dhoni can afford to take a chance. The inclusion of Mishra will certainly add to the variety.