Dhoni takes blame for botched chase
One over left. Eleven runs to get. MS Dhoni on strike. A 20-year old to bowl. Nails chewed off and throats screamed hoarse, the Kanpur crowd were hoping for the fairytale finish. The India captain was hoping for the same as well, but his skills have declined in the back end of his career and his team's discipline had gone the same way in the back end of today's match.
"I felt the first 30-35 overs were very good for us, especially when we were bowling," Dhoni said. "And it was the same when we were batting. Close to 35 overs, we batted really well. But there are a few areas that we have to work on."
One of them being Dhoni's ability to finish an innings off. "Maaro," he said with a smile, when asked what had been going through his mind in the final over. Dhoni did try for much of his innings. Where previously he would have backed his strength to clear the boundary in front of him, today he got his first by scooping Dale Steyn over the wicketkeeper. The rest of his 30-ball 31 was fueled by his ability to run twos. But, with sixes needed, he could only plop a catch back to Kagiso Rabada and that was that. The "gamble," as Dhoni put it, did not come off.
"It's not an easy job, it doesn't always work your way, especially you know, you have to play the big shot. At times [when] the wicket is great and is coming on nicely to the bat, more often than not, you use the pace of the bowler and get away with it. But [on] the wickets like these where the average bounce is a bit low, they can still hit the deck hard and the ball doesn't really bounce as much as it should. So it becomes it slightly difficult."
While Dhoni had trouble timing the ball, South Africa ransacked 109 runs in the final 10 overs to record the first 300-plus total at the Green Park stadium. Well north of the "260-270" runs that Dhoni thought could be chased down. So the blame was placed on death bowling, again.
"It was disappointing because there was reverse swing on offer for the fast bowlers. They should have executed the yorkers or even the back of a length, hitting the deck delivery could have been used more effectively. But we were not able to do that.
"If there is some kind of help, we have to make sure we don't give away too many runs. I think there were two occasions where in in two overs we gave close to 40 runs. That's a lot of runs irrespective of the format."
It is difficult to put the loss entirely on the bowlers when they have a set AB de Villiers to deal with. Besides, India seemed to have the match won with a sublime riposte from Rohit Sharma. But finishing things off became a problem for the second time in a day. Dhoni did concede that was his "job in the side" but seemed a little grouchy about it.
"Yes, when you bat down the order you have to take the blame especially because of the fact that when you finish many games, people always remember the ones you have not finished. One was, of course, the England one, this is another one and one I remember we were playing Sri Lanka at Rajkot that was a few years back."
Dhoni also felt that India's batsmen could have been a touch more proactive in the overs leading up to the final 10. "Personally I felt close to the 40th over mark, the four-five overs leading to it, those were crucial because we should have got a bit more runs. I'm not saying we should have played a few big shots, but we could have got a few more runs in those particular overs."
That the target India had to chase went beyond their ability was also because they lost their best bowler R Ashwin to a side strain midway through the match.
"At that point of time, I had eight overs of Ashwin which I felt I really missed in this game. Of course, he got injured [and] we can't really help it but till that point of time the game was on [because] we were not giving runs to them. After that, the few overs that were shared by Raina and Stuart Binny, those were the ones where we conceded a fair amount of runs, if not a lot. Then the last few overs, the death bowling was not good.
"Still there are a lot of positives that I can take out of this game. We need to give credit to our players given the fact that you missed one of your main bowlers [for] six, seven or eight overs, it is not easy to bowl [and make up for that], specially if you have to bowl after the 30th over onwards.
"The way we started, Rohit and Ajinkya's partnership in the middle and the way Rohit carried on even after getting a hundred. It was hot and humid, but overall the way he batted and carried on, that was very remarkable."
Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo