Australia in India 2013-14 October 21, 2013

New ODI rules and faulty bowling shackle Dhoni

The rule of having only four fielders in the deep to protect a less than incisive bowling line-up has placed limits on MS Dhoni's captaincy

MS Dhoni walked slowly near the boundary of the Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium near Hambantota, the notorious wind howling across from the forest behind him. But his thoughts were on something else, his eyes warily sizing up the outfield, easily one of the biggest in international cricket. His first reaction: "It will be very difficult to stop twos and threes on this ground." It was an instant, momentary glimpse into how Dhoni's mind works. Almost immediately, he moved on to pleasantries about the remoteness of the area.

The Hambantota trip was in July 2012. Already, the introduction of two new balls had snatched away reverse swing and the last remaining signs of attacking spin bowling in ODIs. With specialist bowlers who have made him lament the absence of Yuvraj Singh's part-time slow left-armers, Dhoni's problems were to be aggravated, especially in home conditions: A couple of months later, the maximum number of deep fielders was reduced to four from five. For a man who won the World Cup with an ageing team, and two years later, the Champions Trophy with a raw squad, this new combination of unreliable bowlers and unfavourable rules poses a daunting challenge.

Dhoni's limited-overs captaincy, and by unfortunate extension, at times his Test captaincy, is about damage control. He hates conceding runs. Not that other captains enjoy giving them away, but in Dhoni's case, it is the core philosophy of how he operates. At times, a fumble or a late reaction from a deep fielder will make him punch one gloved hand with the other in frustration. You will seldom see a similar reaction from him for a dropped catch.

Dhoni does not take wickets to restrict runs. He restricts runs to take wickets. That is why he likes and backs Ravindra Jadeja so much. That is why he has so much time for Pragyan Ojha, in Tests. He waits and waits for an opportunity and then moves in like a boa constrictor. As soon as the Australia openers fell in Mohali, he turned to Jadeja and Yuvraj, who darted the ball in backed by a packed leg-side field. The runs dried out. The asking-rate increased. Australia lost crucial middle-order wickets. The Dhoni formula seemed to be working again, till James Faulkner v Ishant Sharma happened.

It is easy to label him defensive, but there is a contributing factor to why his style is the way it is. Dhoni's never had the kind of ODI bowlers who can consistently deliver wickets without going for runs. He does not have a Mitchell Johnson who can run through a line-up with extreme pace and bounce. He does not have a Saeed Ajmal who can contain as well as strike reliably.

When he's found someone like a Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who delivers more often than not with the new ball, he's given him extended spells at the start. Bhuvneshwar is a limited bowler at the moment, and Dhoni tries to maximise his strength with the new ball. But even a Bhuvneshwar is a rarity for Dhoni.

Over a large period of his captaincy, Dhoni also had the headache of where to hide several slow men on the field. Though India's young batsmen have upped the standards considerably, Dhoni still has to deal with where to place R Ashwin and Ishant - both not exactly assets on the field. One wonders his plight if he had to operate under the restriction of four deep fielders with some of the older sides he's led.

The India captain has been quite vocal about his discomfort with the new rule that has compounded his worries of minimising the damage his bowlers frequently inflict upon his batsmen. Five deep fielders were about the only hedge Dhoni had against bowlers who regularly panic and lose their discipline at the death. For a captain who isn't comfortable with "spoon-feeding" bowlers, he's increasingly started to run to them when they do the exact opposite of what the field is set for, which is often.

His exasperation was clear at the toss in Mohali where he said something to the tune of "I don't know what they want us to do" with all the new rules. The impact is being felt acutely in home ODIs played on placid pitches. India have already lost six of 11 home games in the past year playing with four deep fielders. Over the same period between 2011 and 2012, they'd lost one in ten matches at home. With one less man to protect the boundary, Dhoni has a serious challenge on his hands and it will have to be somehow tackled on the field working with the same set of bowlers. Having probably the most powerful ODI batting line-up has worked as an insurance against profligate bowlers in the past but it might no longer suffice.

Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sandeep on October 23, 2013, 14:01 GMT

    MSD is the best captain we had after DADA and he knows the game well then us. He is right in the article and I support him because he have best cricketing brain, we can't deny from that. Problem in India is in system, nothing has been done about the pitches which support both bowlers and batsman equally. Mohali's pitch is quite near and so they don't have good record over here. We need more such pitches instead of flat tracks. Now, the bowlers, we never get consistent bowlers due to same because they are used to flat tracks and on their own pitch when they get hammered they forget where to bowl. They were bowling mostly on leg side and middle stump which was easy to pull, but the key is if you want to bowl short, it is better to bowl short on outside off stump but keep it near to off stump. We should find a winning combination from Bhuvi, Praveen, Varun Aaron, Umesh, Irfan, and Zak. Ishant is useless. RP can be think over again as he was the most economical bowler of T20 WC'2007.

  • Ashok on October 23, 2013, 13:30 GMT

    Finally Dhoni gave a bit of ground & dropped Ishant to make room for Shami & Unadkat. Both bowled well & economically. But he goofed again by omitting B.Kumar. Fortunately, Vinay at least took 2 wkts. albeit being expensive. No sign of Mishra. But MSD also used Raina for 8 overs with excellent economy rate. Ashwin was again expensive as was Yuvraj. So still there is room for fine tuning. One more redeeming feature was Kohli was not used as a Bowler.These are some of the positive ways of coping with the new rules & moving forward. Action always speaks louder than words. I am glad to see it.India also need to do it in batting - coping with the 4 Oz pacemen to complete the adjusting. Way to go, MSD!.

  • Dummy4 on October 23, 2013, 8:05 GMT

    @stup1d Australia didn't use Leg Theory because; A) we considered it unsporting and, possibly, B) our best bowlers were spinners then and I'm not sure we had bowlers who were fast and accurate enough to be able to pull it off. I've answered your question and still don't see your point. I also don't see the relevance of your mini history lesson either. This "story" is just a typical Dhoni-whine which he always does after India have lost a game. Lack of fielders on the boundary is an advantage to teams who hit boundaries, aren't quick runners between the wickets, and play on small grounds with fast outfields i.e. India in India. No rule in cricket comes into effect if it's not BCCI approved and think if Dhoni thought about it a bit, he probably would mention restrictions on outfielders as it is advantageous to his team

  • Naresh on October 23, 2013, 7:29 GMT

    INDIA needs to concentrate on their strengths - MISHRA could come in - when the spinners came on they strangled Oz. Oz realized that their target would be the weak pace bowlers - thus Ishant, Vinay, Kohli, and even Bhuvi gave them the runs. This together with Ashwin's poor form is helping Oz out - Ashwin's problem is that he is not taking wickets. So what does that leave us in the BOWLING DEPARTMENT? NOTHING!!!!

  • Bob on October 23, 2013, 5:20 GMT

    I haven't read all the comments on this article.. so someone may well have beaten me to this... these restrictions not apply to any other ODI captain or is this another case of India being singled out for special restrictive practices in order to prevent them winning. Or maybe it's excuses because Dhoni (who looks like becoming the new Indian super-hero once SRT finally departs the scene) is captaining a losing side.

  • rob on October 23, 2013, 3:18 GMT

    Very early in the piece the author claims that reverse swing has been 'snatched away' from Dhoni and I guess by implication all other the captains. Well, I dispute that claim because in our domestic 50 over competition pretty much all teams are getting some reverse in the final 10 overs or so. Right when you need it the most in fact. The ball is still reversing but it's happening later in the innings. .. the other thing that gets me about the statement is I wasn't aware that the Indian's were masters of reverse anyway. I can't remember the Aussies ever being worried about the Indian pace men reversing their way through the batting order. .. there must be something I missed.

    Anyway, I suppose there's nothing wrong with saying you don't like the rules but wouldn't it be better just to leave it at that and get on with the job. In the end I'm sure that's what will happen.

  • Suj on October 23, 2013, 2:43 GMT

    Isn't this new rule helping the Indian batting juggernaut score the extra 50-100 runs when they bat? So the other team experiences the same disadvantage right? So why is this being mentioned all over the place? The change in rule does not change the fact that India's bowlers were hopeless before and continue to be toothless ...

  • siddhartha on October 23, 2013, 1:49 GMT

    Few things we all must accept:

    1. Ashwin can perform only in tailor made pitches. He will be massacred throughout this series.i don't think it was tactic to bring him in 29th over in last game.It was simply fear of Dhoni. Bring on Mishra.

    2. Raina has played only 2 matches at no 4. No need to criticize him.

    3. Yuvi is no longer good. He can play some good innings here and there but that's all.There will be no consistency.And there is simply no reason for preferring him over Raina.

    4.Bhuvaneshwar Kumar can't bowl well in death overs.

    5. Vinay kumar gets wicket only when batsman slogs him.

    6. Kohli does not get wicket even when a batsman slogs him.

    7.Ishant Sharma has not learnt anything in 6-7 years of his international career.

    8.Dhoni,hardest hitter of the ball at the moment. But terribly defensive as captain. 9.jadeja- Bowling well but needs to be more responsible with bat.

  • Dummy4 on October 22, 2013, 23:02 GMT

    seriously u want to step down to this level. What did suresh raina, yuvraj and jadeja to with the bat in the entire series. These players always struggled against raw pace, so what are they doing in this team against an opposition team that has a factory of genuinely quick fast bowlers. Had bailey not dropped the catch then India probably wouldn't touch 270 - although credit goes to dhoni for showing the damage he can cause if he is given any chances. Fact is the aussie quicks were the ones pitching the ball up with new ball, but Indians were bowling a back of a length. so where does the new rules come into picture. Regarding defensive fields because of poor bowling attack, well u are not giving the bowler any confidence by giving him such fields anyway. But only reducing his wicket taking chances. What india needs are good swing bowlers. they have bhuvi, but thats it. Vinay kumar is too old. Ishant sharma needs to pitch the ball up, but he is down on confidence. Where is praveen kumar

  • Dummy4 on October 22, 2013, 22:19 GMT

    well india needs to produce some quality bowlers..instead of lamenting about the rules...rules imply on both sides so move on and pay some attention on producing some bowlers who can give results.this art has really died in india.occassional silver linings and then again dark clouds....this has been the situation of indian bowling.....and most astonishing of all is its coming from MSD..i rate him the best captain in todays cricket who analyze the situation very quickly.......its a shocker from u MS...really disappointed me....a fan of urs from PAKISTAN