Australia v India, 3rd ODI, Melbourne January 17, 2016

Dhoni weighed down by India's familiar shortcomings

MS Dhoni showed glimpses of his old wizardry but India's mistakes left him frustrated

Play 03:02
Ashwin's was the only slot open to change - Dhoni

Virat Kohli's Test side has reached No. 1. MS Dhoni's ODI side has lost its third straight series after the 2015 World Cup. The pre-match shows are - almost a year too late - beginning to discuss the impact of split captaincy. Former cricketers are talking about how MS Dhoni had to restrain himself in the Tests when he was just the ODI captain. If you watched the third ODI without knowing who India's captain was, you would have thought Kohli was leading India going by the sheer amount of time the camera spent on him.

It happens with everybody. Once you start relinquishing control, the world is quick to move on to the next winner. If you just see the comments under a Dhoni press-conference story, you would think he is the worst captain to have led India. His quotes suggest he clearly doesn't have the same say in selection matters as he once used to. It is true he is not the same player anymore, but in the third ODI Dhoni showed some of the wizardry that made him the legend he is.

For the first time in a long time, he played with the fear of not much to lose, and played big shots to almost every ball he played. His not diving in front of slip when standing back will keep coming up for criticism, but he also showed there is no equal when it comes to stumpings. George Bailey was left shocked he was stumped in such little time: Dhoni's gloves didn't go back as he collected the ball from Ravindra Jadeja; it seemed they were always coming forward towards the stumps, and just happened to collect the ball on the way. Another Dhoni special came when he stood nonchalantly by the stumps, giving Mitchell Marsh no indication the throw was coming at his end, and then whipped the bails off in a jiffy.

On a day that Dhoni showed some of his wizardry, he had to, like all captains who lead a side to three successive series defeats, field questions about his future. The clamour has been growing anyway. Dhoni showed he had not lost his humour - and a bit of righteous anger - when he said he would be in a conflict of interest if he decided on his own fate. It would need a PIL (public-interest litigation), he joked, pointing perhaps to the PIL against him for a photo of his used by a magazine in a manner allegedly hurting the Hindu sentiment.

Jokes aside, though, Dhoni said it was more important to see where the team stood and not where the leader stood. He spoke of how bowling is still an issue after all these years. The absence of a good allrounder came up. He spoke about the need of grooming players, but most importantly he said what he has been repeating since 2011-12, when India began to first lose big under him: "It's not about the leader. I'm there [now], somebody else will come later. What is more important is to see the areas we are lacking in, the departments which have to improve when it comes to shorter formats."

An MS Dhoni special: The India captain gave Mitchell Marsh no indication the throw was coming at his end before quickly whipping the bails off © Getty Images

Dhoni spoke of the culture that needs to be maintained within the team. "If you're getting a chance to play for your country, irrespective of what the situation is, it can't be unfair," he said responding to whether it was unfair on Manish Pandey to de dropped without really getting a go. "That's what you have to communicate with them. A lot of times, because of the media scrutiny, people who tend to bat at No. 5 or 6, the thinking becomes, 'I've gone in now after the 43rd-44th over, let's look to play as if I'm hitting, don't get out and go back saying you are not out and everyone is happy.' That's the kind of culture you don't want in the team.

"I feel when it comes to these youngsters, even Manish Pandey in the last game, you know there was no question of hesitation of playing a big shot. That is something you have to encourage, and at the end of the day, the captain, the selectors are there to look at specifically that, because it tells you a lot about the character of the individual. You want brave people in the side. Winning and losing keep on happening. You want good characters in the side."

An example of how leaders become immaterial on the field was shown during India's brief fightback in the Melbourne ODI. India had come back through Jadeja and Dhoni, there was pressure building and there were fields set to cut out easy runs, but Umesh Yadav offered two freebies down the leg side to provide Australia eight runs that eased the pressure. Dhoni let his frustration at such instances show.

"If you take the deep fine leg slightly wider and that's one area where you don't want to get hit for a boundary," Dhoni said, "And that's where off the two next balls, back-to-back boundaries are hit. It's a bit disappointing because the bowlers have played a lot of games, and you want to avoid that kind of a boundary. At times it feels like I can only try to bring in more pressure by making field changes, but it's all about execution."

Dhoni also seemed weighed down by the misfields. "Today, I felt on and off the bowling was decent," Dhoni said. "We did let ourselves down with our fielding. The best fielders in our group actually left quite a few deliveries. You accumulate those 15 runs or maybe more, then the turnaround could have happened. I felt in this game, it was the fielding that let us down."

As with all Dhoni press conferences, though, you weren't any wiser about his future plans or if he feels the pressure from the selectors' side. Just like he almost ruled out giving Rishi Dhawan a chance before playing him in Melbourne. Just like he answered in a "no" when asked if he deliberately bluffed Marsh in that run-out. The thing is, if Dhoni told you when he was bluffing, it would stop being a bluff.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sriram on January 19, 2016, 13:46 GMT

    How did these guys reach SF! Mohit and Shami is it? So Mohit is now in oblivion! can't seem him comeback but will now follow PK playing domestic cricket. Only time will tell where Sran and Bumrah will end up. i hope Dhawan does not turn into a Binny, I'd like to see both Axar and Jaddu in tandem! but that ain't gonna happen.

  • suresh on January 19, 2016, 5:41 GMT

    India have the potential to score 350 runs in all the three games if one among the two of the openers gave a falshy start, two of rohit hundreds looks quite a selfish knock I dont know what the hell he is talking about starting innings from 0 once reach hundred either hit or leave field after 100 its upto finishers then. India tried really hard with their bowling I still believe they need a proper coach to groom them irfan in tremendous form India should pick him of let hope in they put a good show in other matches in the series

  • BIKIRAN on January 19, 2016, 4:35 GMT

    I believe MSD has been relentlessly bombarded with "expert" advices and questions on team selection by the media and by everybody following cricket in India in general.This forum can be a pretty good example.Have to pity the man.He is a human being after all.

  • Gopal on January 19, 2016, 3:40 GMT

    Hey, its not dhoni who is the problem, The problem is batting in power play and opening. Both of them (dhavan/Sharma) are playing the same role, watch full long innings, you have to score at least 325-350, ie more than a run a ball. If you kill too many balls in the beginning and does not score in the end, then one ha gone. Compare sewhag/Shrikant/ or a jaisurya. In Perth 100 came in 22nd over, In Brisbane 100 in 21st over, in melborne 100 in 22nd over, so we are loosing at least 5 overs. During Sewhag/Jaysurya/Tendulkar 100 used to come by 16nth/17nth over. The solution is one opener has to go frm 1st over itself. Also I feel Shastri is eating dhoni's space. He should be kept away.

  • Pony on January 19, 2016, 3:39 GMT

    DUNGER.BOB is right.For all I now India A batsmen are either equally good or much better than senior team batsmen.So far no one has got chances.A run a ball 100 is nothing but a disaster these days.Besides all 5 batsmen are of that type.Rohit and Kohli just want to bat in their luxurious positions.If they care for the team,they should be happy to play in lower order at 5 and 6.We have lots of batsmen ready to fill the opening slots.They can hit well,but will that ever happen.And has there been any series where Dhawan has not been out of form?He has to go.

  • Fictionaliser on January 19, 2016, 3:28 GMT

    Lack of discipline shown by Indian bowlers is the issue. Even Bangladesh bowlers play with more common sense. Not many teams have the firepower to score 300 thrice against Australia. Dhoni the captain is replaceable not Dhoni the batsman or Dhoni the WK. Also Australia is absolutely invincible in their conditions and even SL Pak or NZ may have managed a win or 2 in the series. Also India play way too frequently with strong teams especially Australia which makes each defeat worth cringing. There is clearly a psychological issue against Australia which India finds it hard to manage. Smith alone averages nearly 100 against India and has been pretty much flawless against them. It is logical though. When you're facing the likes of Starc Johnson Cummins in your bowling nets on a daily basis, you're not going to find Ishant Sharma or Yadav challenging. Hats off to our batsmen on scoring consistently against a top notch attack. Too many for balls are a result of sustained pressure in batsmen by bowling tight and disciplined lines not the lethargy of batsmen in scoring tight singles. Give some support to team India as well as Dhoni.

  • varadarajan on January 18, 2016, 23:01 GMT

    That is MSD! Calling a spade a spade. If people think that Kohli as captain we would have won the matches,they are just dreams. The way our bowlers bowl is sight. Even after being hit, they don't even take time to think what to do, but like robots keep on bowling similar balls. They just dont plan. At times they click. Our fielding also let us down. It has become a fashion to blame Dhoni,which must stop.Only mistake was dropping Ashwin who could probably have made a difference. MSD,s statements are correct. India will long remember him as a captain who shaped India's cricket.

  • rob on January 18, 2016, 20:49 GMT

    I think a problem with the Indian batting is that your top order doesn't have much confidence that your middle/lower order can capitalise on their good starts. So, they keep plugging away at the same steady rate instead of upping the ante because they're not game to take more risks and possibly get out in the process. Oz has no such hang-ups. Our top order seems to be very confident in the players behind them. If Warner or Finch are only going at a run a ball once they get to 50 both will attempt to get the strike rate up to 150 from that point. They can do that because they know that even if they happen to get out there's plenty of batting to come. .. Some may argue that India hasn't got that luxury but really, how do you know for sure? So far they haven't had an opportunity to show what they can do. They are being shielded by the top order.

  • Prakash on January 18, 2016, 18:44 GMT

    This loss of series is because of poor tactics by Dhoni.... Keeps supporting useless players like Jadeja (sometimes he can bowl decently, occasionally completes is full quota of overs).. but definitely he is not the one India looking for at No.7 position.... He cannot connect the ball to bat on most of the occasions....India has wasted this slot by giving Jadeja a long run in that position without much impact... Again keep continuing with Jadeja at #7 for T20 and T20 world cup increases the chance of being knocked out soon in the tournament. Whoever talk about Jadeja just think what he has done in limited over matches... Except being close to Dhoni, he does not have any capability to play ODI/T20 at international level.

  •   Ravi Narla on January 18, 2016, 18:02 GMT

    "Virat Kohli's Test side has reached No. 1" - Courtesy SA played bad cricket at home and lndia to lose their ranking. "MS Dhoni's ODI side has lost its third straight series" - Even if Virat had led it, it would have been the same given the way our bowlers are bowling at the moment. Dhoni is right. With the exception of few there are not many in this team that meet the required standards.

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