India v/s South Africa, 3rd ODI
Highs: India’s spinners, Rohit Sharma
Lows: MS Dhoni, MS Dhoni, Raina and the middle order
MS Dhoni is a man who seems to walk around with an aura of inevitability nowadays – like the player who has contributed whatever he could to the game, and now, in this twilight phase, is looking for the game to contribute generously back to him. How else can the Indian ODI captain justify his post-match conference, where, in typically verbose style, he spouted some gibberish about shuffling the batting order every match so that every batsman could adapt to different situations, and so that nobody is in a comfort zone?
In a way, he’s trying to defy more than a century of traditional thought in cricket – where the essence of winning a game “as a team” revolved around finding each player a spot he would be best at and most suited to. That’s the whole point of cricket: finding the best possible player for the best possible position. In this current Indian ODI team, it’s clear that there are only four positions Ajinkya Rahane can play at – one, two, three and four. If put in any other position, he becomes as useless as, say, an Amit Mishra opening the batting. There’s no point of playing him if he comes in after the 35th over, just like there’s no point playing a guy like Pujara in the test side if he bats below 6. But Dhoni’s statements seem to revolve around just one single thought process: “If I have to bat higher…” After years of batting at five and six, he has decided that – due to some kind of vague expert comments and media statements about the best ODI team batsman needing to bat higher – that maybe it is time for him to stop soaking up the pressure and ‘enjoy’ himself at four.
First of all, Dhoni isn’t the best batsman in the team anymore – not like an AB coming in at five and being criticized. Secondly, he can’t just decide to destroy the balance by batting at four, irrespective of the match situation, and hoping that the others take care of the middle order. Number six is a specialist position, which is why he became a legend in his own right. Putting guys like Rahane and Ambati Rayadu, who aren’t big hitters in any way, in that position is like taking revenge for the years he has had to shoulder finishing tasks. “I batted there for years, now you see how it feels…” seems to be Dhoni’s attitude when he speaks at post-match conferences. Who said he MUST bat at four? It’s like he is even trolling the media by suggesting that they were the ones who always expected him to bat higher, and so now, when his skills are diminishing, he has decided to take them up on their advice.
This is immature and ridiculous thinking by one of the great thinkers of the game. There was no reason for him to come in at four in Rajkot, despite scoring a 92 in the previous game (for which he was suitably praised for). The scratchiness still remains, and one can’t remember when he last scored faster than a run a ball in an innings. After Rohit’s dismissal, it was imperative for a stroke-maker to accompany Virat Kohli at the crease.
Kohli was finding his game again, and needed someone else to keep the one-boundary-in-10-balls rate going. Rohit did it admirably, and Rahane could have perhaps been more useful there at 4 than MS Dhoni, who just came in and started running quick singles. He gave the innings and fan the illusion of being busy and keeping the rate going, until it suddenly came down to 8 an over. Then, he did what he often does these days: perishes under pressure while chasing a score. His shot was laughably desperate, and once again, he had left the team to finish WITHOUT any hitters or finishers in the bottom.
His selfishness would be justified if Raina was in terrific form, or if they had found somebody like a Corey Anderson or David Miller at six or seven. As of now, the team has nobody capable of accelerating in the end, which is why Raina has been contended with through all his bad form. He is the only guy who can still come in and get going without any fear, and of course, there will be a high rate of failure, considering his style of play.
MS Dhoni needs to stop treating the game like a backyard game of cricket. He can’t behave like the man who is taking back from the game; he is tarnishing his own legacy with these bouts of senility.
To put things into perspective: All of India’s results in this ODI series against South Africa so far have been direct results of Dhoni’s doing. His inability cost the team the first match. His 92 won them the second, and his foolish batting changes cost them the third – one they should have won easily after Rohit’s splendid innings AGAIN.
India are now 2-1 down in the series. Perhaps the selectors should schedule a special series as a send-off for the philosophical captain – who often offers some rather illogical explanations at the end of each game with a serious, worldly wise face. If India lose this series, MS Dhoni should not last till the 2016 T20 World Cup – a format in which he is yet to even score a 50 as a batsman. Being a finisher there, actually, doesn’t make sense because he has lost the ability to hit it big and far.
As of now, the most expendable place in the side is Dhoni’s. If he starts realizing that, maybe he’d stop playing snakes and ladders with the team’s younger batsmen, and let them enjoy their cricket in the spot they’re accustomed to.