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Dhoni should allow others to fail too

by Gaurav Sethi

India had lost the second T20 to New Zealand way before the second ball of the 20th over. However, in spite of being pretty much a lost cause, with any approach being of little consequence, except statistically, MS Dhoni on 49, one short of his second T20 international half century, refused to take a single.

A ball before this, Dhoni had hit his second six. In Dhoni’s own universe, he often refuses to take singles, denying the strike to batsmen he no doubt considers of lesser hitting ability than himself – either overall or at that precise moment.

So on the second delivery of the final over, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, not yet off the mark, was at least in Dhoni’s mind, going to be of lesser impact than himself.

Dhoni was dismissed the next delivery on 49. Such is Dhoni’s match awareness, and perhaps overall awareness (of both himself and people’s perceptions of him) that it can be argued, that even in a completely lost cause – 43 needed off 5 balls – he was possibly thinking of one of two things – either give the crowds something to rave about with another six or two, or just in Dhoni auto-pilot mode, doing what came naturally to him, taking the onus upon himself, even in a lost cause.

Perhaps the first time we got a sense of this Dhoni quirk in an international was when he denied Ambati Rayudu the strike repeatedly.

From September 8, 2014 (ESPN Cricinfo)

“He had the experience of finishing off similar chases in the past. It would have been unfair to expect a scratchy Ambati Rayudu to do the big-hitting, in what was his T20I debut.

Declining three singles in seven balls when you have a specialist batsman at the other end was definitely not the right approach. It undermined Rayudu's credentials and cost India the game.”

Chasing England’s 181 that day, India lost by 3 runs. Dhoni finished with a 27 off 18 deliveries, Rayudu 3 off 5 deliveries. Both remained not out. Played as a batsman, Rayudu walked in to bat at seven after bowling all-rounder, Ravindra Jadeja. Dhoni was captain in that match. Rayudu since then played five more T20 internationals for India (his last in June, 2016), with a highest of 20.

In that game from 2014 , as in yesterday’s, Virat Kohli was India’s highest scorer. Ironically, with somewhat similar scores – 66 off 41 deliveries (9 4s, 1 six) that day, 65 off 42 (8 4s, 1 six) yesterday.

Appears both Kohli and Dhoni are stuck in a rut. As too are India’s selectors, team management and cricket watching public. While Kohli’s rut is a batting masterclass, Dhoni’s needs to be examined further.

While Dhoni’s cricketing mind continues to evolve, as is obvious in his leadership role, even under Kohli’s captaincy (as was evident in the recently concluded ODI series vs New Zealand), his batting often meets with the same comment from VVS Laxman amongst others on air – “Dhoni nowadays needs those extra few deliveries to warm up before he can get into his stride”.

In yesterday’s innings, chasing an asking rate way in excess of 10 runs per over, Dhoni at some point was striking at less than a run a ball. That in spite of the one six. But Dhoni is not alone – India’s overall T20 batting is very much stuck in the 50 over format, a format that both Dhoni and India continue to master.

Regardless of the series outcome, India continues to embarrass some very good longer format batsmen by picking them for an entirely different game, which face it, T20 is.

Faced with a suspicion that Hardik Pandya may not be the fifth bowling option further complicates the team’s selection.

Yesterday, Dhoni walked out to bat at six, with no serious batting cover to follow – which is not to belittle Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s recent surge with the bat (26 off 15, 2 4s, 2 6s less than a fortnight back) and more significantly, the 72 runs off 8.5 overs in partnership with Dhoni vs Australia as recently as on 17th September. Bhuvi finished with 32 off 30, Dhoni 79 off 88.

But that’s an altogether different format. To watch Dhoni come down the track, only to play the ball back to the bowler or a fielder within the circle has become a common sight. It works for him and for India in ODIs.

It doesn’t with Dhoni low down at six in T20s. Dhoni may still be the finisher, though not with the same impact, and needs to be re-examined as the nourisher in T20s, and bat no lower than four. Also questions should be asked, is there time and place for a nourisher in T20s? And if so, how many?

It may not be a bad thing for Dhoni to take a relook at himself. And his batting partner from the other end. Let other’s fail at not finishing the game for a change.

It’s not easy being Dhoni. Not even for Dhoni these days.

First published here


Animesh said...

Well the seniors raised questions on Dhoni's performance and got the befitting reply from fans over the country.

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TheWinin said...

This was befitting reply to all those who questioned his performance. I loved his innings.

TheWinin - Latest Cricket News

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