'A relief to have specific death bowlers' - Dhoni
MS Dhoni, heartened by the new-found assuredness surrounding India's death bowling, has said an efficient all-round attack has minimised his longstanding bowling worries. Since the start of the Australia T20s early in the year, India's bowling, especially at the death, has received a boost with the emergence of Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya as well as Ashish Nehra's second coming.
While Bumrah has the most flattering figures among the three with 15 wickets from 11 games conceding only 6.15 runs per over, Nehra (13) and Pandya (10) have also done well to further Dhoni's plans at different points of the innings. Dhoni has a fondness for bowlers who can deliver the yorker well - Mohammed Shami being a good example - and Bumrah's ability to send them down at will has made him invaluable to the team.
"It's a relief to have specific death bowlers," Dhoni said in Kolkata. "What I am definitely feel happy about is, if we are fielding, right from the first over I know who is bowling at the death for me. That's a big relief. Looking at the team 99% of the time I know who is bowling [at the] death.
"Maybe in the last few years, after seeing how everybody is bowling, close to 15th or 16th over mark I had to decide who I will use in the slog overs according to who is bowling well, what the conditions are. But [now] the whole bowling department is doing well, the job becomes much more easy. Definitely I don't have to put a lot of effort in to thinking who is the best bowler for the death."
Dhoni was also pleased with his batsmen starting to embrace the idea of batting in different positions depending on the match situation. "I felt not everybody can fluctuate according to the needs, and that is something it is important that every player tries to do," Dhoni said. "If you have that flexibility in batting... more often than not it is the mental flexibility that is really needed. Everybody knows what their roles and responsibilities are.
"Let us say, for example, an opposition has two left-arm spinners [and] if you see the Indian team right now we have the right combination of left-hand and right-hand batsmen. Ideally a left-right combination is the best to have but if the opposition doesn't have any offspinner and the wicket is turning then why not promote somebody who bats maybe at six but who can bat at four and you can have two left-handers at the same time. So this kind of adaptability really needed and I feel slowly each and every one is open to the idea and they have played enough to have that kind of an exposure."
When asked if Virat Kohli was his natural successor to play the finisher's role, Dhoni said the team should not depend on a top-order batsman to do that job as well. "The finisher is usually me and the lower-order batsman. The entire set-up is for the lower-middle order to finish the game. If your top order is doing it it's fantastic, but the finishing term is a very specific term and should be used with players batting at Nos. 5, 6 and 7.
"If your openers are batting well and if they are continuously winning games for you you may call them finishers but usually I term the finishing job the role of people who bat lower, their job profile is different. As you come down the order you have to think twice before hitting because the number of batsmen there after you keeps going on the lesser side."
Dhoni acknowledged the fact that he might not face too many deliveries, and said he would have to condition himself to play short, impactful innings. "I think 90% of the time I will be playing the same kind of role I played in Asia Cup," he said. "We will be in a very tough position if I get to play maybe 20 or 25 deliveries, unless I really promote myself. More often than not, I think I will have to prepare my mindset for 10 or 12 ball innings maximum, so that will be my role and responsibility more often than not if everything goes to plan."
On Mohammad Shami's injury, Dhoni said he'd have to prove his fitness to make the XI. "You'll be informed [about his injury status]. We will consult with the physios and take proper action."
With India having won 10 of their last 11 T20Is, could they up their momentum any further? Dhoni joked India were already running in "sixth gear" but typically dismissed any notions of complacency. "I think we are running in the sixth gear - I know technology has gone into eight gears," he said. "Everything is set. I don't think there are further gears to operate upon.
"How we are playing cricket and the stuff we are doing on the field is adequate for any level of game, but we have to keep our intensity up and focus should be there from ball one."
Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo