India v New Zealand, 3rd Test, Nagpur November 19, 2010

Three men on a mission

ESPNcricinfo staff
MS Dhoni, Suresh Raina and Gautam Gambhir may have different styles of batting, but all three are struggling for form and need to score runs in Nagpur

MS Dhoni kneeled down and peered closely at the pitch. The dark clouds, which soon ruined the Indian practice session, were slowly descending on him. Gautam Gambhir soon followed his captain to the middle and not long after that the rains arrived. Before the drizzle turned into a downpour, Suresh Raina was still practising taking catches and was the last one to head for the dressing room. You wondered then what these three men, the ones who probably need runs the most in this Test, were feeling.

They may all have different styles of batting, but they are bound by a common thread. Gambhir had converted his old failing - the dab outside off stump - in to a strength, but in recent times it has been getting him in trouble again. Dhoni transformed his batting from an attacker to an accumulator, but is now stuttering to find a balance. Raina is where Gambhir and Dhoni were: his strength is to attack but he is being forced to learn the downsides of not tempering that instinct to the demands of different pitches and match situations.

Early in Gambhir's career, the glide to third man was a shot that gave observes to think he might struggle in Tests. Most players would have shelved the shot that brought them trouble, but Gambhir perfected it and went on a dream run in Tests. The perceived handicap had turned into an asset, or so it seemed. Today, the past has returned with vengeance and that shot, which symbolised his strong character in turning a weakness into strength, yet again appears to be his Achilles heel. It's a depressing sequence: Hesitant poke. Stab. Out.

The tentativeness outside off stump had sapped his confidence so much that his off drives have also started to look iffy. There was a poignant little moment in the second Test in Hyderabad that perfectly captured his inner demons. He had reached a scratchy 16, constantly edging or missing his drives. Until then Virender Sehwag would rush across for a chat - a reminder to focus perhaps or an encouraging word - at his every discretion. Gambhir then leaned across to connect with a cover drive and even as the ball fled past the fielder, he looked up at the skies and muttered what looked like thanks. It was the moment things turned around for him in that Test. Can he continue to turn around the corner in Nagpur?

Raina is just starting out in life and in cricket, and shows his age while batting - those skilful on-the-up shots and his attacking intent dazzles your senses. Already, however, the fast bowlers are aiming for his head with bouncers, and that weakness will be really exploited in South Africa. Additionally, even on slow tracks, he has shown a keenness not to change his style. In the first Test in Ahmedabad, the sluggish pitch demanded he cut out the on-the-up shots, but he kept going for them and perished, tamely pushing too early to one that stopped on him.

In the second Test, he rushed down the track and heaved straight to deep midwicket. He will need some runs in Nagpur ahead of the tour to South Africa as Cheteshwar Pujara is breathing down his neck. His captain offered support today. "Raina is a positive guy and at times he will get out playing the big shots," Dhoni said. "It's not a big botheration right now because the top five are scoring really well." The operative phrase being: "right now".

The same top order has been giving Dhoni adequate cover and breathing space for a while now. Captains earn their halo with their performances in crisis situations, but recently Dhoni the batsman has been floundering a bit in such situations. And he knows it. "I feel some of the decisions I am taking (in the middle) is leading to the collapses of the Indian team," he said today. "I am playing quite well in the nets. At times you get out because you choose to play a wrong shot. At times when you are batting at no. 7 with tailenders, you have to go take the initiative of playing big shots and you get out.

With the top order doing well, both of us [Raina and him] can capitalise on our batting and get big runs. We are hoping both of us will score in this game."

Three different men will enter the game with similar troubles and the same hopes. How they perform should make for fascinating viewing.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • P on November 21, 2010, 12:15 GMT

    Dhoni is not out of form, his batting defects are getting magnified by his physical state. He cant stretch or bend well now, and has to rely on is wrists to drive on the up while unbalanced. This can only result in catches at the cover area. His keeping also has suffered a lot. His aura is preventing us to notice his shortcomings. He has long ceased to be a care-free fearsome batter. If he cant bat freely when he comes after such a batting line-up, then the problem is with him and not havig to bat with tailenders. He has lost confidence in his own batting and thats why he cant take a fifth bowler or an all-rounder.

  • Dummy4 on November 21, 2010, 12:06 GMT

    i think its just matter of time...they all ill be back to form.otherwise other players r waiting for the golden chance...

  • Dummy4 on November 21, 2010, 11:30 GMT

    no raina..........pujara in.........or specialist bowler harbhajan is working as bowling allrounder.......

  • Dummy4 on November 21, 2010, 6:38 GMT

    I think the team should bring a specialist bowler in place of Raina. If Dhoni wants to keep some CSK buddy with him, it ought to be Ashwin.

  • Allan on November 20, 2010, 6:00 GMT

    Gambhir I feel is truly out of form due to being sidelined from injuries for a long time, and has reverted back to some of his old bad (batting) habits. Dhoni & Raina however have just not exhibited the test cricket temperament of patience and determination that a top-class test batsman MUST have to succeed. In fact I feel Dhoni & Co (and I include Kirsten here) have displayed patience (or stubbornness) where it's NOT called for such as in field placements, defensive tactics and playing the stupid waiting & watching game, and no patience and determination where it's NEEDED: in batting. I'm surprised that Raina who displayed such patience and determination in SL and had such a wonderful start to his test career was found throwing away his wicket against Aus and NZ. One wonders what's going on with him mentally.

  • anil on November 19, 2010, 22:48 GMT

    I love another excuse to set forth a poor performance - No pratice time before game :). As per the Captain - poor form is becuase of having played too much cricket. Who the heck ask you to. We the fans will be content if you play less but perform. Fatcis I never see these spoiled multi - millionaire ever work hard in pratice. Pathetic.

  • Dummy4 on November 19, 2010, 22:05 GMT

    Lot of the pressure is coming from awesome fielding by New Zealand. It's cutting out easy runs and putting pressure on batsman to try things that are not natural to them. If you look at the last 3-4 years, there are always 2 or 3 different players out of form. India still seems to be piling on runs at home and away consistantly, because there are other 3 or 4 whoa re scoring immensely. So, as a batting unit, f it has worked out quite well, you have got to back up players when they are out of form, but has a past history of delivering - Otherwise we would have never seen the second coming of Tendulkar and Sehwag.

  • Ashok on November 19, 2010, 20:02 GMT

    You are dead right. These 3 have failed badly for a while now and need to show up. I am sure they will perform once they conquer mental devils. I am more concerned with Vettori's tactics of field placement to cut out singles is working. Indian batsmen have to counter this. Only Sehwag, VVS and Harbhajan have done successfully. Middle order Gurus, Dravid & Tendulkar have failed to counter it. That will be the main challenge.I would still be inclined to include Ashwin, Unadkat in the XI and go with 5 bowlers, 5 batsmen + Dhoni. This puts India in a better winning position. Harbhajan & Ashwin can bat at 7 & 8.The choice will be either 3 spinners or 3 pacemen - Toss up between Ojha & Sreesanth for the 11th spot - depends upon the pitch.Win drops India by 1 point, a draw 4 points. It is a must win situation.Contributions from 11 players is needed. If you do not take risks you will not succeed. Clearly existing team formation is not good enough to beat NZ.Will the Selectors wake up!.

  • Dummy4 on November 19, 2010, 19:47 GMT

    i guess over all there is no problem with these three players its just the matter of lack of confidence, which can happen to any good player.......they just need to spend some time in the middle and surely & their confidence will be fact i liked the approach shown by gambhir in the 1st inning of 2nd test where he took his time to settle & got good result.....its really a boon to have Viru in this batting line up.....he always take care of run best wishes to all three boys...!!!!!!

  • Dummy4 on November 19, 2010, 18:13 GMT

    phew finally spotlight's turned from dravid thnks a lot but yeah these 3 have to perform yeah they have got high potential esp gambhir we need his strts with sehwag more.......tht's a big asset to our team......then srt dravid laxman are doin their job somewht now we need raina and dhoni to contribute too otherwise the concept of 4 bowlers and 6 batsmen is a everyone needs to chip in runs for a gud total and a gud fight

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