It is hard to fault an opening pair that has been so successful over the past several months but it was Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma's slow start that pulled India down in their big chase in Hamilton, MS Dhoni has said. The pair consumed 7.4 overs and added only 22 after India were set a D/L target of 297 from 42 overs. The middle order, led by Virat Kohli and Dhoni, took the game close but New Zealand won by 15 runs in the end.
"I thought once we got off to a start the openers should have carried on for a bit longer so that they could have played a few more shots, scored a few more runs and taken a bit of pressure off from the middle order," Dhoni said. "But that was not the case. It does not always go as planned. I think the middle order did quite well to reach close.
"We got off to a good start in terms of not losing wickets. But if you are supposed to score 290-odd when you are chasing and in the first ten you are 38-odd runs and two wickets down [India were 37 for 2], it becomes quite difficult for the middle order, specially on a wicket which became slightly two-paced with the drizzle. I felt as the game progressed it became more and more difficult.
"I think the batters are getting some kind of a start but we are not able to convert those starts into 50s or 75s or big partnerships. I feel it is very crucial if they are playing outside [India] that once you get off to a good start it is important you make a big partnership."
Dhawan and Rohit have been opening since the Champions Trophy last June and average 52.32 as a pair, with 1308 runs from 26 innings, including six century partnerships. Three of those stands were put together in the home series against Australia in October, but their returns have tapered off since then. They added 17, 21 and 29 against West Indies at home, 14 and 10 in South Africa, and have managed 15 and 22 so far in New Zealand. Not only has their average dropped significantly over these past seven innings, their partnership run-rate has also dipped from an overall 5.25 to 3.87.
Rohit, since his promotion from the middle order, has generally not found it easy to score quickly, barring the golden run he had in the home series against Australia. He made 3 off 23 in Napier and 20 off 34 in Hamilton following 18 off 43 in Johannesburg and 19 off 26 in Durban. While Dhawan's strike-rate is still in the early nineties, he too has had a lean run off late.
Dhoni said some of his batsmen were under pressure to play to the reputations they had built, something which could apply to Dhawan. "What some of the batters are going through is a phase where first when you come in and play a few games you just play your natural game and then all of a sudden you have a reputation to carry on and that puts a bit of pressure on them."
The captain added that it was a passing phase and said they would be better placed in playing without inhibitions and going for their strokes. "With more and more games, they will realise what their particular game is, they will back themselves to play that game and slowly, they'll change themselves and improve for better performance. They are going through a phase where they are thinking what their benchmark should be but it is important we enjoy cricket and play free-flowing cricket because most of the batsmen are free-flowing and they should play their shots, does not matter if it is the first ball or the last."