Spinners should have bowled better - Dhoni

After India's five-wicket loss in the first ODI against Australia, captain MS Dhoni said he expected more out of his spinners, who have been his strength in ODIs as well

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
On the eve of India's first ODI in the bilateral series against Australia, MS Dhoni expressed concern that none of his batsmen might be able to offer any overs should any of his specialist bowlers have a day off. As it turned out, India failed to defend 309 on a flat Perth pitch, and India missed that extra bowler dearly.
In fact Dhoni tried to sneak in a cheap over or two from Rohit Sharma when Australia had lost two early wickets, but the hosts went after Rohit, and also the specialist spin bowling of R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. The fact that the two spinners went for 129 runs in 18 overs rattled India's captain. "You have to realise, yesterday when I spoke [about the lack of part-time bowlers] I was talking more about the fast bowlers," Dhoni said. "If they don't have a very good day, I will have to use the spinner. I never thought the spinners will have a very bad day and the others will have to share the responsibility.
"If you see the bowling department the fast bowlers did a very good job. The spinners could have bowled a little better, in the sense that if they would have just avoided the easy boundary deliveries... If the batsman hits you over long-on and long-off, fair enough, it is always a good shot, and with a bit of risk involved. You have to make sure with the field restrictions that you don't get hit in an area where you don't have a fielder. That is something we will have to avoid."
You can empathise with a bit of Dhoni's helplessness. The spinners have been his pride. He has won the Champions Trophy in England through spin. Through spin he took India to the World T20 final in Bangladesh. Through spin he won a bilateral ODI series in England in 2014. Now that the fast bowlers gave his defence of 309 a good start, Dhoni found himself unable to set fields for his spinners. What do you do when your most trusted weapons let you down?
"They [Australia] played a few big shots, but other than that was the time when they rotated [the strike] really well. They were still getting six, even more than six, an over. That was an area where there was a lot of pressure on us because the spinners also went for quite a few boundaries. I felt that was a phase where we could have bowled slightly differently. Other than that the fast bowlers bowled really well."
Given India's bowling - they conceded 438 in the last match they played - and given how much the Australian batsmen have plundered them of late, you did wonder if India were urgent enough in putting the runs on the board once they got off to a good start. The four overs immediately after the 40th brought India just 26 runs, and the fifth resulted in Virat Kohli's wicket, only the second India had lost until then. Dhoni was asked about that period of play. He didn't find much wrong in India's approach, but also conceded his bowlers might have taught him a tough lesson in that regard.
"You have to look at what could have been a good score," Dhoni said. "As I said 310 was a very good score. They batted really well, still they reached it in the last over. Which means I feel if we had bowled slightly better we could have put more pressure on them. Maybe induce a few big shots early in the innings.
"Always you can debate you could have played a bit more aggressive cricket at that point of time. Also you have to realise once the platform is set at that time what happens if you lose a couple of wickets? What we saw was, it was easier for the set batsmen to hit. Even for the Australian batsmen the set batsmen were hitting the big shots. More difficult for the newcomers. That is a catch-22. Yes we had wickets in hand, and could have pushed for 15-20 more runs, but also you have to look at the other side, what if we didn't reach 310? Overall if you see maybe if we are in the same situation we may bat slightly differently. Still on this wicket, I felt 310 was a very good score."

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo