Testing times for Dhoni

He will be under pressure in the crunch match against Pakistan.

Outgoing selector Mohinder Amarnath must have had a good laugh on Friday as he watched Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s gambles backfire against Australia in the big Super Eights match in Colombo.

When the Board of Control for Cricket in India officials decided to unceremoniously boot out Amarnath from the new selection panel, it was clear the maverick had paid the price for his frank views.

And one of them, it is believed, related to captaincy issues as Amarnath favoured different captains for different formats of the game.

Knowing Dhoni’s clout and how he does things brazenly, nobody in this Indian board will dare to question him. The kind of freedom which Dhoni enjoys in the way he runs the team is obvious to see.


Yet, bold moves against Australia did turn out to be a bit of a joke as almost everything he did went wrong.

Last week, I had argued for a continuation of the Virender Sehwag-Gautam Gambhir combine at the top.

I had made it clear that whatever be the format of cricket, it is important to have a solid pair at the top. However, just because Sehwag is going through a poor patch doesn’t mean you dump him and break his pairing with Gambhir.

To me, this ploy of sending Irfan Pathan to open the innings doesn’t make much sense. And when you factor the bowling of Pathan, conceding 19 runs in an over, his utility comes under the scanner.

Many former cricketers have come out in favour of Sehwag being in the team. And the best observation on air came from Sunny Gavaskar, when he spoke of how “Sehwag’s fear factor would have helped against Australia”. The point is, even if Amarnath had warned against rash captaincy and advocated a change at the helm, it would not have gone down well with the BCCI office-bearers who back Dhoni to the hilt.

However, based on pure logic, some of the decisions which Dhoni made were poor. It is well known that when there is a left-right combination in the middle, it unsettles even the best bowling attack.

One could not have asked for anything better than the start the Indians made, the first 50 against Australia coming in six overs and 70 in 10 overs.

After that, there was poor batting with Dhoni himself and Yuvraj Singh consuming too many balls when they were in the middle. Dhoni’s 15 runs off 21 balls and Yuvraj’s eight off 10 balls were not the efforts one needed to boost the run aggregate.

But more shocking was the bowling attack. Having started with a four-bowler theory and then letting the part-time bowlers fill in the rest, Dhoni now seems to think five specialist bowlers will win him matches.

If you go through the bowling attack Dhoni employed against Australia, it was a sad sight. Barring R Ashwin, who bowled 3.5 overs, his other specialist bowlers – Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh, Piyush Chawla and Pathan bowled just seven overs between them.

And it was Dhoni’s part-time bowlers (sixth, seventh and eighth) — Virat Kohli, Yuvraj and Rohit Sharma — who bowled four overs against Australia.

I do think given Piyush Chawla’s poor form, he is being persisted with for no reason and Sehwag’s presence would have been far more beneficial.

Having said that, I do think the way the Aussies batted, almost indulging in baseball-style hitting, any bowling attack would have struggled to stop them. Yet, if Dhoni thought the three-spinner strategy would work, he was proved wrong.

The crunch match against Pakistan is today and as usual, there is huge excitement and tension.

Statisticians are talking about India’s performances against their arch rivals in the World Cup and the ICC World T20, where they have a perfect record.

But having watched Pakistan script a fantastic win against South Africa, it is clear they are far more motivated and razor sharp.

Unlike Australia, Dhoni can’t think a spin-heavy attack will work against Pakistan. How much he can strengthen the batting attack will again become the focus.

Quite often, we are made to believe that it’s the bowling which fails India. But now it’s clear that it’s the batting which has not been clicking and the right mix of batsmen needs to be picked.

I am sure, the new chairman of the selection committee, Sandeep Patil, and his team will be watching the matches closely.

Indo-Pak matches bring the sub-continent to a virtual standstill and given the mood now, unless Dhoni is able to force a win on Sunday against the neighbours, there will again be talk of his rash captaincy style.

Sometimes, it looks like Dhoni is making bold decisions and they work. And when the same bold decisions fail, Captain Courageous comes in for criticism.

Now, let’s wait and watch to see if Amarnath has a word with former teammate Sandeep Patil, as the two live in the same city!


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