Dhoni hints at four-bowler strategy for World Cup
MS Dhoni has dropped strong hints that in order to strengthen their batting India might play with just the four frontline bowlers in the World Cup, with Stuart Binny having to fill in as the third seam bowler. In India's last two completed games Binny has opened the bowling, which was being seen as a test run for him to be used as more than just a part-timer. Dhoni confirmed that after India lost their final match of the Australia tour.
India have gone winless on the tour. They were expected to do better in the triangular ODI series, but their batting has let them down often. With the current ODI regulations - two balls and only four men outside the circle - dictating that teams play five full-time bowlers, India's batting has suffered on this tour. Dhoni has repeated in almost every press conference that the specialist batsmen have failed to bat with freedom because the hitting prowess after No. 6 is quite thin. To play Binny is an attempt to add some meat to Nos. 7, 8 and 9.
Dhoni said that emergence of this new combination was one of the positives to have come out of whatever the think-tank has tried in this series. "With Bhuvi [Bhuvneshwar Kumar] struggling a bit, it just puts that added pressure on the bowling line-up because frankly we can't really afford to play with three fast bowlers and two spinners because our batting becomes just too light for it," Dhoni said. "If you lose the toss and you are batting on a surface that assists the fast bowlers, if you lose a couple of wickets, then you are just doing the catching-up job.
"If you see the good sides, they bat quite deep. Even with the kind of batsmen that we have, we know they can bat but how they can bat at the first-class level is not how they will bat at the international level. That's why we gave [Ravindra] Jadeja ample time and now slowly he has graduated to that level where he can do that job to some extent. Axar [Patel], we know he can bat but with more exposure and more matches, he will get better because international cricket is very different compared to the first-class level. We need to get our batting strong. The lower-order contribution is something that is a key factor. We can't really have four to five batsmen in the lower order that will get out quickly because you want to make the most of 50 overs."
Apart from this "positive", there have been quite a few negatives, the biggest of which is not getting into a winning habit. More than two months without a win can bring the confidence of a side down, but Dhoni said he wasn't too concerned about that. "I think from the confidence point of view we are quite good," Dhoni said. "Because again we try to give more emphasis on what needs to be done as to proper planning and executing. Also we have been in this situation. We know how exactly it feels and how to overcome that feeling. We were able to overcome that in the England series when we came back strongly. It's something the boys know how to get out of. It's a bit of a challenge. Yes it is because it has been a long tour so far, but this break now - six to 10 days - will help us."
Dhoni said that the team will stay as far away from the actual cricket as it can during this break. "Lock the kitbag. Keep it somewhere you don't even want to see it. Completely switch off from cricket," he said. "What you are asking [how to lift the team] I can't tell you in the press conference. It will be handled accordingly. It won't be handled on the cricket field because I feel a break is more important than coming back and doing some practice. Because we have been here for more than two months so we know the conditions pretty well. What is important right now is a break. Completely switch off from the cricket. Just do a bit of thinking on what needs to be done."
India's batting order has been a bit of a mess with Virat Kohli batting at No. 3 only if a wicket is lost after 10 overs, and with Dhoni himself preferring to come in to bat with about 15 overs left. Too much theorising can complicate matters, but Dhoni said it was something the team needed to do. "Today, Virat was supposed to bat at 3, irrespective of when the wicket falls because with this batting line up - okay, we didn't score too many runs - but this batting line-up we can afford to have him at 3 because I am there in the lower order, then Binny is there and Jadeja has also come back. Relatively, the lower order also looks quite strong.
"You have to see ultimately the whole strength of the squad. I know individuals love to bat at a certain slot. If you don't have people who can float around in the batting order, it becomes very difficult. I know a lot of teams are not very flexible. They want their respective players to bat at a certain slot but cricket I feel has evolved. It's the number of overs that is more relative to the game. For example, if you have a Super Over, you don't really send your openers. In a normal game, you will send your openers but in the Super Over, you will send somebody who can slog and hit the ball. You have to adapt yourself according to the demands of the game."
Dhoni was asked how Rayudu is taking this situation where he is sent to do the hard job, and when the going is relatively easier the big boys come out to bat. "Rayudu is someone who is willing to do that," Dhoni said. "Not everyone can do that. But ultimately you find a couple of people who are able to do that. It just adds to the strength of the team. It is just easy to say that I can't bat at that number but ultimately if the team wants you to bat at that number, you will have to.
"Also, a lot of players, when you are grooming them, you have to bat them slightly up in the order because when you are playing in the subcontinent, if you are batting 5 and 6, you won't score 50-60 or 80 runs. He will score 20 not out or 15 out. He will remain that way. It's important to give them chance at 3 and 4. Some of the experienced players, they will have to take the responsibility of playing 5 and 6. That's what it's all about. Ultimately, you have to see the interests of the team."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo