So far, so good for India's part-timers
MS Dhoni is possibly the only captain in international cricket who misses a spinning allrounder so much that when he returns, with barely any match practice after recovering from cancer, he becomes a certainty in the XI for a world event. You can see why a reliable and experienced allrounder such as Yuvraj Singh is so critical to MS Dhoni's plans. Depending on how much faith you have in India's specialist bowlers, you can either love Dhoni or hate him for being happy with just four of them in his XI.
Dhoni's press conferences have been revealing ever since India arrived in Colombo for the World Twenty20. He began by saying how important a role the part-timers had to play, then said India would begin the tournament with four specialist bowlers, and if the need arose, only then would they pick an extra bowler in the XI. In between, he also talked about his "ideal" attack - three fast bowlers, one spinner and "a few part-timers".
That is the way Dhoni has operated in the past. That is the way he won a World Cup. His method is probably a result of a mix of how many times his specialist bowlers have let him down and the value he assigns to the extra batsman at No. 7. In the end, it is Dhoni's side, and it is down to how comfortable he feels when he leads an XI out onto the field. Perhaps the magnitude of the win against England lured Dhoni out of his comfort zone to continue with five bowlers against Australia. But against Pakistan, he was back to picking four specialist bowlers and bringing on Yuvraj immediately after the Powerplay.
It is interesting to watch Dhoni use his part-timers. Yuvraj struck immediately against Pakistan. Dhoni used the opening to bring on another part-timer, Virat Kohli, from the other end. Yuvraj removed another Pakistan batsman in his second over. Dhoni gave another over to Kohli. Yuvraj and Kohli ended up bowling six successive overs, two more than the quota of the fifth bowler.
A part-timer is perhaps a necessary evil when a captain wants seven batsmen. But if one of them bowls a couple of tight overs or picks up wickets, any captain can fall to the temptation of using him for longer. It is a risk. What if he gets clobbered next over?
"It is a difficult one frankly, because at times I have seen [that if] you try to go for that one extra over and it goes for 20-25 runs, the whole analysis goes bad," Dhoni said. "So, at times if you are comfortable with what is on the board, rather than gambling too much, what we decide is, if the specialist bowlers bowl, this is the amount of runs that they [the opposition] may score. If the part-timers have done their job there is no point in pushing them because errors can happen at any time. So I should be happy once they have bowled four good overs."
India's much-criticised attack has now bowled out sides three times in four games in the tournament. Dhoni spoke of the limitations his bowlers had, but was satisfied with their showing. "We have not got bowlers who can bowl at 145 kph. We have got bowlers who bowl slightly slower but at the same time they have got the skill to get the batsmen out," he said. "Our problem starts if there is nothing from the wicket, which means, if it is not on the slower side or if there is no reverse swing or no spin then it becomes bit of a concern. If you see the performance [against Pakistan], it was a really good one because the part-timers contributed, the spinners bowled well [as did] the fast bowlers."
South Africa's batsmen have struggled in both their Super Eight games, and Dhoni will be hoping his limited attack, part-timers and all, can contain them in order for India to make the semi-finals.
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo