World Twenty20 2012 September 18, 2012

Dhoni faces tough calls

After a golden run in his first few years, India's captain faces searching questions in the format that first brought him glory

For someone whose career as captain was kickstarted somewhat by default, when India's senior players opted out of the inaugural World Twenty20, MS Dhoni has done fairly well for himself.

Back in 2007, the automatic choice to lead the side ought to have been Virender Sehwag, for he was a fair bit senior to Dhoni and was also playing all three formats. Unfortunately for Sehwag, that year was the poorest of his career till then. Ergo, the responsibility of leading the young Indian team fell into Dhoni's lap.

Dhoni's brand of poker-faced calm captaincy with a penchant for taking risks led India to their first and only World Twenty20 victory. The rest, as they say, is history. He's one of the better captains India has produced - if not the best. In the last five years, he has passed quite a few stern tests with flying colours, yet there have been a crucial few he has failed at.

He's facing one such examination with the start of fourth World Twenty20. Can he regain lost glory in the shortest format of the game, his forte? Since India hosts the world's biggest T20 league, the IPL, it was expected to propel the team's fortunes in the World Twenty20s after the first one, but it hasn't worked out that way. India's below-par performances in the last two World Twenty20s have raised a few questions about the standard of the IPL and the quality of Dhoni's captaincy.

His method of operating in limited-overs cricket has always been to play seven batsmen and four bowlers. While this formula has worked well in ODIs, because the format allows the part-timers to finish their quota in the middle overs without much damage, it tends to backfire in T20 cricket. Every over in a T20 is worth 5% of the bowling innings (as opposed to only 2% in an ODI). In ODIs a side has the time to bounce back from a couple of expensive overs by part-timers, but there's no such luxury in T20 cricket. In T20's short life span, a clear pattern has emerged, where teams with potent bowling attacks tend to do better.

The other problem with playing only four frontline bowlers is that none of them can afford to have an off day. Considering that Zaheer Khan hasn't enjoyed much success in T20, L Balaji is coming back after a very long hiatus, and Irfan Pathan isn't the best option at the death, there is a strong case to reconsider the strategy of playing an extra batsman at No. 7. India's batting is, perhaps, the strongest in the tournament, and the top six batsmen should assume the responsibility of playing out the 20 overs.

If Dhoni indeed decides to play an extra bowler, he will face the dilemma of which batsman to drop from the XI. In a tournament like the World Twenty20, form must take precedence over reputation. Dhoni would either have to get Virat Kohli to open the innings with Gautam Gambhir, or he'll choose between Yuvraj Singh and Rohit Sharma. Going by current form, Yuvraj and Sehwag seem to be the players most likely to be benched.

Yuvraj hasn't got enough hours of batting under his belt in the last ten months, and Sehwag has scored only one half-century in his last 11 T20 internationals. If you play Yuvraj, you've got to treat him as the match-winner of old, who would bat in crunch situations and also bowl two or three overs regularly. If Dhoni is going to ease him into international cricket, it will defeat the very purpose of Yuvraj's inclusion in the team. And if you're going to play Sehwag, he must start batting deep into the innings more regularly. Else, it's better to open with Kohli. These are going to be tough calls, but you have to be ruthless to win a world tournament.

In case Dhoni continues with the same team combination, which he's most likely to do, the team must assume the responsibility of scoring 30 runs above par when they bat first, and be prepared to chase, which they should choose almost every time Dhoni wins the toss.

Once you have the cushion of an extra batsman, in addition to what is already a very strong batting line-up, and two decent allrounders in R Ashwin and Irfan, you must not be talking about the pitch slowing down or leaking a few extra runs in the death overs.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

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  • Dummy4 on September 19, 2012, 16:35 GMT

    Akash, It is easy to blame dhoni for India's poor show in T20, stating he has gone with 4 bowlers. Truth is, India does not even have 4 good bowlers. The quality difference between part timers and full time specialists is not too much.

  • Imi on September 19, 2012, 16:04 GMT

    Sehwag has to go.

  • Dummy4 on September 19, 2012, 15:47 GMT

    Sehwag like HS is living on past glory...time to drop him

  • Dummy4 on September 19, 2012, 12:47 GMT

    where are Baroon Aron and umesh jadav..? why we are not playing one of them instead of Irfan pathan.Atleast we could piock Dinda instaed of balaji or pathan

  • Dummy4 on September 19, 2012, 12:47 GMT

    Dear friends, like to add something about Rohit Sharma. We usually talks about Rohit's batting and bowling. Anybody knows how great fielder he is. The charming athleticisum fielder always gives 100% on the field. He saves 15/20 runs for his country. He has highest catches against his name in T20 international. Really just cant understand in every article everybody talk about Rohit Sharma only. Please leave him alone. He will deliver for India. I agreed with somebody's comment, when he was in pick of forms he sat on the bench for almost 40 days without a single match in Australia for VVS. I saw him playing against Pakistan a day before, he played brilliently. I am sure he will dazzle again for India and will share his performance in Indian Victory. Definately India is going to win the T20 World Cup again. And to all Rohit's fan- Rohit will comeback again.

  • Senthil on September 19, 2012, 11:57 GMT

    For a country that ranks 119 on the Human Development Index, and having the worst per capita Olympic medal tally, we sure have a lot of people to telling a World Champion Team captain how to do his job!

  • Cricket on September 19, 2012, 11:49 GMT

    i'm no fan of T20 and rarely follow the game but your comments aakash could equally apply to selection issues in all formats. i dont understand the dilemma re yuvraj. either he's fit enough to play international level in whatever format he's chosen or he's not. as he's been selected then you have to assume he can bat at the crunch overs and bowl his full full quota. if Dhoni wants Yuvraj to be eased back in to international cricket, it should start with domestic cricket. as for sehwag, he's always been a 1 in 10 at best performer. india's has one of the weakest bowling attacks in world cricket. indi'a's obsession with finding pace bowlers has meant that we have had no quality spinner since kumble retired and as a result india has no regular match winning bowler depending on the conditions. india's strength lies in batting and if 6 batsmen inc big hitters like raina, dhoni cant score runs then neither will a 7th. 5 bowlers gives a better balance to the side.

  • Ram on September 19, 2012, 10:59 GMT

    couple of games away rohit was struggling to put bat on ball and was using pad more effectively. well i am great fan of rohit as well but to say that you will bench yuvi or viru is utter non sense. all these years crucial matches were won bcose of viru at top and yuvi at the middle. pls dont write whatever you want. if india has to win this wc, its either viru or yuvi or virat who has to do what yuvi did in 07 and 11 wcs. also zaheer and bhajji are never given their credit, they have crucial breaks and even though bhajjis tally wasnt great, he removed pollard, de villeire etc all crucial wickets. no tough call for dhoni - viru, gambi, kohli, yuvi, raina, rohit / dhoni (order change only), pathan,bhajji, ashwin,zak. if someone is injured bring in tiwary. dhoni is very clear. critics are confused or confusing

  • jayaesh on September 19, 2012, 9:33 GMT

    Why dosen't the ICC allow subsitutes to take part like in other sports such as football,rugby,Hockey,basketball,volleyball instead of making cosmetic changes like powerplays. In the warm up matches teams are allowed to play wih 13 players but only 11 at a feild, this way a team can specialist batter till no.8 and six reular bowlers and all this talk about 7 batters and part time bowlers problem will vanish, two subsitutes or even one is it too radical, i don't think so.....................

  • M.Raghavendra on September 19, 2012, 7:48 GMT

    India will miss Praveen and RP Singh... They should have Jadeja and Yusuf in the T20 side... Balaji and Bajji should try in ILP. Virn and Gauti then virat with rohit and raina and yuvi with dhoni then ashwin with irfan and zak... RP or Praveen would have helped India...

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