Slightly difficult to pick Rishi Dhawan - Dhoni
The Himachal Pradesh allrounder Rishi Dhawan is likely to accumulate a lot of frequent flyer points and bowl a lot in the nets, but the India cap looks as far as it did before he was selected for the Australia tour. On pitches where Australia are playing no specialist spinners, and where the India spinners have been moderately effective, captain MS Dhoni feels the only way Rishi can play is if a specialist batsman is dropped, and if that happens, Dhoni said, India will be playing with "six bowlers".
Despite going for 239 in 37 overs for three wickets to outfield catches, spinners R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja are being considered better on hopelessly unhelpful tracks than Rishi on tracks with good bounce. This should come as a strong message to the selectors.
Dhoni was asked if he had given a thought to going horses for courses as opposed to playing his best bowlers on paper. He responded: "If you see what is important is to see that we played the first game with our best bowling attack. In this game, too, Ishant [Sharma] was fit and we thought he will get good bounce. We feel it is important to play with a proper bowling set-up. And at the same time you cannot neglect the batting.
"When it comes to whether we can play the extra seamer, if your frontline three seamers are going for runs, it is slightly difficult for somebody like a Rishi to come in. He may bowl well, but I am saying it will be slightly difficult for him to be successful with the fielding restrictions. He is not someone who bowls very quick. At the same time in the middle overs you need to bowl a lot of dot balls. That's where you have to decide whether you are better off playing with the two spinners.
"The only option you have is, you will have to sit out Ashwin because Jadeja gives you that cushion of batting. It is a difficult one. I still feel 3-2 (seamer-spinner) is the best combination. If somebody was there who could bowl a bit of seam-up, that obviously helps. As of now we don't really have [one]. We can't really look at Rishi because to play him we will have to get rid of a proper batsman. Then we will have to play six bowlers. Six bowlers is a bit of luxury to have in cricket nowadays."
Australia, on the other hand, have handed out debuts to two fast bowlers and have stuck with them. They have rotated two other quicks, but have been blessed with the presence of a proper allrounder in James Faulkner and a batsman who can bowl in Glenn Maxwell. The only "allrounder" in the Indian squad is not being considered much of a bowler. In the absence of any evidence against proper batsmen, Dhoni's assessment of Rishi is the only considered one we have even though it goes against the view of the selectors.
At any rate Dhoni seems to have stopped asking for better from his bowlers. After India lost defending 309 in Perth, there was a clear change in the way they batted in the middle over in Brisbane. They had now set themselves up for 340, but lost their way in the end, and the bowlers gave up the defence of 308 just as easily in Brisbane as they did in Perth. Now Dhoni says there are only two choices left: either score in excess of 330 or just choose to chase. And he said that while answering a question about the extras - 11 wides and a no-ball.
"In both the games we have given a fair amount of extras," Dhoni said. "That takes that number of runs off the total. On good wickets it does matter. As far as Ishant is concerned, I think the breeze was flowing in circular motions. I felt that made it slightly difficult for him. I feel even if we cut down the extras we will have to score more runs. There are two options: either put pressure on [our] batsmen and score 330 or chase down the score, give them the batting first. These are the only two options we have got. We will have a look and decide what suits us the best."
If India are to score those extra 30 runs a quick start from Shikhar Dhawan can go a long way, but he has thrown his wicket away twice. Even if Dhoni wanted to drop him, he wouldn't be able to because the selectors have given him only five established specialist batsmen. The only way for that to happen would be for Ajinkya Rahane to open, the idea of which Dhoni likes; he is not entirely convinced with the idea of Rahane the middle-order batsman.
"Jinx has improved a lot in his batting," Dhoni said. "But also the wickets are good here. What is important is to see him when the wickets slow down and he is pushed to play the big shots. When ball comes on he loves it, and plays very good strokes. I feel he has improved a lot. We will wait and watch and see what the best position for him is. I have personally believed he is very good opener because he plays proper cricketing shots. He cuts and pulls, but he plays proper shots. He can accelerate whenever he wants to. Also once he starts with the new ball, he is quite good by the time the middle overs start. So far it is good he has done well in both the positions. We will see how it goes."
For now, though, Shikhar has the captain's confidence. "Shikhar is someone who loves to play his shots," Dhoni said. "If somebody plays shots from the very start, there will be periods when he won't score runs. You can say it was a rash shot, but that's the time you are supposed to back your stroke-players."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo