India in South Africa 2013-14 December 3, 2013

Test batting on Dhoni's mind ahead of ODIs

MS Dhoni's half hour against the red ball in the nets, two days ahead of the South Africa ODI series, suggests he is thinking hard about his Test-match technique and team combination

India are usually short on practice and preparation time in international cricket. MS Dhoni is usually philosophical about it. There are only so many days in a year, he seems to often suggest, and that he and his players have to make the most of what they get. India have landed in South Africa on Monday, and are due to play their first international on Thursday, with only one two-day tour game to follow between the ODIs and Tests.

"I don't know if it [preparation time] is enough or not but this is the only time we have," Dhoni said before leaving for South Africa. "We will try to have long practice sessions in the first one or two days that we have with us. We will have one light session before the match, and that is how we will get ready for the ODIs. That is how much we have got, and we have to get the best out of what we've got."

During the second of those long practice sessions, which India have to get the best out of, Dhoni seemed to have batted to his heart's content, properly against the India quicks, spinners and throwdowns from fielding coach Trevor Penney, and rashly against the low-quality net bowlers India had at their disposal. Just when you thought he was leaving, Dhoni padded up again. Behind his net at the Wanderers stood coach Duncan Fletcher, and CM Dhananjay, the team's analyst, was asked to bring a camera.

The surprise came when the red Kookaburras were brought out. Two days before the first ODI of the tour, Dhoni - a man who loves to stay in the present - spent half an hour doing exclusive Test-match practice, even as others around him played the big hits. With no change of ends and other such delays, you can face a good 10 overs in those 30 minutes. Fletcher remained in constant conversation with Dhoni from behind the net. Dhananjay, who is a decent bowler himself if allowed to bowl from 18 yards, and Penney's throwdowns tested Dhoni. At one point, as the ball began to lose some shine, Dhananjay applied a foreign substance to keep it new.

It seemed to be an exercise in moving forward to cover some of the late movement, and after the end of the session you could hear Fletcher telling Dhoni, "You can also ride the swing and play it late." Dhoni's batting was critical to India's success in the home Tests earlier this year, but he has had a weakness against the moving quick ball when he plays with hard hands outside off and edges through. He has in the past said that that is the way he plays and can't do much about it.

Not on this net session's evidence. At the very least, Dhoni is looking at his batting with much more responsibility now that he is the more experienced batsman in the side. He is possibly looking at himself as more than the declaration batsman or the saviour on the odd occasion that has been.

However, this early Test preparation of Dhoni's could have a bigger implication. It was not just Dhoni's batting in India that worked, but it was also the balance his move up to No. 6 provided, with the extra spinner drafted in. There were no tired bowlers around, no soft overs when the ball would become old and take slow turn. Three years ago, in Cape Town, when India had the upper hand in the second innings, their bowlers - playing a third back-to-back Test - lost their sting on day four, although you can't take away from Jacques Kallis' genius that day.

You wondered, though, what if India had an allrounder, like Kallis himself, who could bowl a few fresh overs then. Like the limited preparation time, Dhoni knows there is no proper allrounder in the country. So he combined with Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin to kind of contrive one. The natural question was, if he would be able to do the same outside Asia. If he would be confident enough to do so outside Asia. Before leaving Asia, Dhoni kept his cards close to his chest, but didn't rule out a move up to No. 6.

"Well it's something that we have to go there and decide," Dhoni said. "We have to see the strength of our batting line-up. And at the same time whether four bowlers are good enough to get the opposition out. It's something that we have to weigh out.

"In the last Test match also we played with four bowlers, and Rohit [Sharma] was the one who batted at No. 6. If you see at times five batsmen are not enough, even six are not enough. And if you see the last two Test matches, the No. 6 batsman has had a lot of impact on the game. We will weigh how it is and then decide as to whether 3-1 [bowling] combination is good enough or we have to play with 3-2."

A lot, of course, was going to depend on how Dhoni feels about his batting in the ODIs and in the nets. If he is thinking of not letting "I dare not" wait upon "I would", unlike the cat i' the adage, he is at least spending as much time preparing as he can.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Deepak on December 4, 2013, 20:08 GMT

    India does have promising allrounders in Rishi Dhawan, Jalaj Saxena, Baba Aparajith and Parvez Rasool.

  • RAJARAMAN on December 4, 2013, 13:06 GMT

    @The Way Cricket Should Be Played ... lower order batsmen do cotribute a lot even in overseas tests ... they are the ones that make the score rise to a decent level in case of top order failure ... they have done it before ... they can do it again ... one man show won't work abroad ... it has to be a collective show with 3-4 players striking 50 ... may be one going to 100+ ... the new and young Indian team is capable of that ... good luck

  • Dummy4 on December 4, 2013, 12:33 GMT

    Rishi Dhawan is an all rounder candidate India should look at seriously

  • Dummy4 on December 4, 2013, 11:17 GMT

    I think India should go with 5 + 1 + 2 + 3 combination for at least the First Test. Indian fasters can't stay fresh for a long time therefore it is required to have more than one spinner who could keep our fast bowlers to stay fresh. Therefore the combination at least for the first test will be Dhawan, Vijay, Purara, Rohit Sharma, Kohli, Dhoni, Jadeja, Ashwin, Bhuveneshwar Kumar, Shami and Ishant Sharma since Jadeja and Ashwin could bat and could give some balance to the side. If the openers see off the new ball then Pujara, Rohit and Kohli could manage the old ball well. Our guys have very good experience in handling Steyrn and Morne Morkel in the IPL and therefore could be able to handle their pressure since they will know some of their tactics.

  • Cricker on December 4, 2013, 10:05 GMT

    I believe Dhoni should concentrate more on his Keeping skills and fitness levels as South African batting lineup will be going to make merry of Indian Bowling lineup if conditions are not overcast. In that scenario, even a single Drop catch or Miss Stumping of a batsman like Kallis/Amla will cost India dearly as they will not give second chance. Coming to Dhoni's batting roles, it can be either one of two scenarios,1) if India is in trouble he has play defensively which is very tough for him in RSA pitches, he cant survive for long, so he has to hit out or get out. 2) If India gets good start, he has to finish innings will a flurry which he can do on any pitch if he wants, so final conclusion is there is nothing for him to concentrate much for tests. So, better he concentrate on ODIs where India has possibility of winning or he contributing more to team.Hope he/other ESPNCricinfo readers understands this logic

  • Cricker on December 4, 2013, 9:51 GMT

    @satishchandar , I don't think Ashwin(even Jadeja/Dhoni) would be as useful lower order batsman as he would be in Sub-Continent conditions. So India should rather rely on top 4-5 batsment performances and their stay at the wicket ALAP( as long as possible) so avoid loss or looking for a draw in test matches. Otherwise if we think that lower order can also contribute, we will see that they will be bounced out/paced out by Proteas fast bowling lineup

  • Wesley on December 4, 2013, 9:04 GMT

    There is a lot of fallacy about playing in South African conditions; First is the assumption that pitches are green tops that suit our barrage of high quality seam bowlers. This is false, South African pitches do have grass to bind the surface but nothing remotely greentop due to the propensity for backfire (AKA vs india at the wanderers in 2007 or India vs England in Mohali this year) setting favourable conditions backfires more than it does any good. The other aspect is that the new ball is pivotal for both the batting and fielding side, you get through the new ball and batting is easier, but without the odd flat track by day 3-5there is always a chance for bat and ball. The second fallacy is that pitches are designed for quicks not for spin, we have seen Ajmal, Swann, Harbhajan and Warne cause all kinds of problems on SA pitches due to the fast turn and bounce you get.

    I completely disagree with anyone that suggests SA conditions are tailored, if anything they are fair

  • Aravind on December 4, 2013, 8:28 GMT

    I think Dhoni is going to walk in at Number 4!

  • Vinod on December 4, 2013, 7:56 GMT

    good mindset from the skipper - to go for nothing less than a win! let's see how this inexperience side will end up with!