MS Dhoni's batting spot has become a raging debate in the lead-up to the World Cup. After scoring three successive fifties, including a series-clinching 87 off 114 balls from No. 4, he has said that he's ready to float in the middle order. While India's vice-captain Rohit Sharma believes Dhoni at No. 4 is "most ideal", captain Virat Kohli says he is "best suited" to bat at No.5.
Dhoni is no longer the explosive force he once was, but he has absorbed pressure on the slow pitches in Australia and has secured two successive chases after taking it to the last over in his own inimitable style.
In the series opener in Sydney, he walked in at No.5 after India were reduced to 3 for 4 within four overs. He weathered many attacks in a chase of 289 before falling in the 33rd over. He batted at No. 5 in the must-win second ODI for India and struck an unbeaten 54-ball 55 to force the series into a decider. In the third match on a tough pitch, Dhoni was dropped twice on 0 and then on 74, but he pressed on to win it for India.
"Well, it's good (enjoying batting at No.4?)," Dhoni said at the post-match presentation after claiming the Man-of-the-Series award. "If I am batting at 6 and somebody is batting at 4, we've to look if we can interchange the position and see if the team [balance] remains the same. It's not about where you want to be, it's about how many you can fill in that position. I'm happy to bat at any number. If I have to go back and bat at 5 or 6, I'm happy to do that. Because the important thing is where the team needs me. After playing 14 years, I can't say I can't bat at 6 and I need to bat at 4 or 5, so I will bat at where the team needs me."
When asked if the management was keen on keeping Dhoni at No.4 Kohli said: "I personally feel No.5 is the best-suited spot for him because that allows him to do a bit of both - get some game-time and finish games off and attack as and when required. The management discussed No. 5 was the ideal position for him and if you saw him in Adelaide as well he was pretty comfortable batting there. He was more himself in that game and he built onto this knock."
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On Friday, Dhoni managed only 12 off 22 balls against legspinner Adam Zampa and 5 off 17 balls from Jhye Richardson, but he made up for that by attacking Peter Siddle, Billy Stanlake and Marcus Stoinis to shift the pressure back on Australia. Kedar Jadhav eased the pressure on Dhoni with timely boundaries and hard-run twos in an unbeaten 121-run stand.
"It was a slow wicket, so it was a bit difficult to hit whenever you want to," Dhoni said. "I think it was important to take it till the end because some of their main bowlers were on the verge of finishing their quota of overs. So, you have to target the bowlers you can on wickets like these. No point going after the ones who're bowling well. That was the game plan and it was really well supported by Kedar. He's somebody who plays some unorthodox shots and great shots in the middle, so it takes that pressure off me when you're looking to go right till the last over."
Kohli conceded that he was nervous when the asking rate ballooned in the chase, but agreed with Dhoni, saying that the key was to take the game deep.
"As MS said, it wasn't that easy a wicket to bat on. So, he had to take the game deep," Kohli said during the presentation. "They're professional enough to finish it off. We were a bit nervous there, but two set batsmen in the middle knew exactly what they wanted to do. So, they got the job done. In the end, that's what matters."