Dhoni unhappy with back-to-back games
Mahendra Singh Dhoni doesn't usually complain at press conferences so his statements on Saturday night, after a match where India were visibly tired against a spirited Bangladesh, should make the game's administrators sit up and take notice. "We were a bit disappointing, but one of the reasons for it is that we have played cricket for 36 of the last 84 hours," Dhoni said. He didn't mention the travel, the training sessions, the warm-ups, the cool-downs, the post-match presentations and the press conferences.
"Back-to-back games make it really tough for the players. I am not really happy with the schedule: two teams are playing back-to-back games, and two teams are not. Under these conditions it is really tough, you are playing cricket throughout the year, and then you play back-to-back matches. You could make out from the start the intensity was not there."
India's display in the field was characterised by Gautam Gambhir's dropping of Tamim Iqbal early in the innings, and India's pace bowlers, who have been their strength recently, performing below par. In the last 10 overs fielders and bowlers combined to allow Bangladesh to score 97 runs.
It couldn't have been India underestimating Bangladesh - at his pre-tournament press conference, when asked about the weak teams in the fray, Dhoni had specifically said Bangladesh shouldn't be taken lightly.
Dhoni's statements beg the question of why a team must play on consecutive days - especially in the heat of June, the least natural time to play cricket on the subcontinent, when people won't bother to come to the stadiums to watch anything less grand than India v Pakistan.
Luckily for India, their chase of 283 saw two batsmen in superb form come together and Bangladesh, too, after an energetic fielding display for a few overs, showed they were just as tired by dropping two crucial catches. Suresh Raina and Gautam Gambhir matched each other shot for shot, including the chances they gave to the fielders.
Gambhir, it seemed, had been waiting impatiently for his Bangladeshi friends. His last three innings against them now read 101, 107 not out, and 90. The first of these was only his second ODI century and came to be a turning point in a four-year career that hadn't taken off till then. He latched on to them right from the start today and must have been disappointed not to get a third hundred against Bangladesh.
Meanwhile it is getting increasingly difficult to get Raina off the National Stadium pitch, where he aggregates 301 from three innings. However it was not always like that; Raina has just made a comeback to the side after a not-so-impressive first stint.
"Previously he was batting at No. 6 and No. 7," Dhoni said of Raina. "You hardly get any chance there - especially in the subcontinent. If you are making your debut and batting at Nos. 6 and 7, on a good day you score 30 not out and on a bad day you get out for 10. Your average hardly ever crosses 25 then. And when you suddenly get to bat at the top and you fail once or twice, people say you have been around for a long time and give you some time at the domestic level. But what's good is that he has come back very confident, he is playing in the "v". And with the form and confidence he is in, he should continue with it."
Continuity is one thing India will be yearning for after the misadventure in the final of the Kitply Cup. And who knows it better than Dhoni, who has been playing almost non-stop for several years now. If he were to get injured, India don't have any other back-up, except for Robin Uthappa who is hardly a regular. "I was tired on the field," Dhoni said. "Not only me, every individual was tired." But who's listening?
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo