On the eve of the second one-day international, MS Dhoni was taking throw-downs, Manish Pandey was facing spinners and Ravindra Jadeja was squaring up to the pace bowlers in the nets at the Gabba.
They had come in to bat after the top-order batsmen had finished their long stints. All three were going hammer and tongs. It was a session which attracted team director Ravi Shastri’s full attention. Despite putting up their highest ODI total in Australia during Tuesday’s game at Perth, India still had a few missing links in the batting order.
One that hurt them was the inability to accelerate towards the final stage of the innings. With the kind of platform provided by Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli, India should have easily got to a score beyond the home team’s reach.
This weakness was also exploited by South Africa in the recent ODI series at home, as Rabada & Co tied down India’s late order with in-the-body, short-of-length line of attack.
In this series, Dhoni, Pandey and Jadeja will have to share the finishers’ role. They will be batting at a stage when pressure is the highest because either the asking rate is climbing or you have to go for quick runs to give that extra cushion to the bowlers.
The head coach knows that if these three can deliver, the batting unit’s potential will be raised to a higher level.
Though Dhoni’s form has been scratchy of late --- the hitting which made him a feared opponent has not been on display, signs from the practice session were encouraging.
His first stint on Thursday, against the pace bowlers, was sedate with Shastri watching intently from a handshaking distance. At the end of it, the coach walked up and discussed a few points. Taking note, the captain went to try it against the side-arm throwdowns as batting coach, Sanjay Bangar, helped set an imaginary field. The regularity with which Dhoni found the middle of the bat and the ferocity in his shots must lift his morale going into Friday’s match.
The body language had changed after the chat with Shastri. Though typically understated, he walked out relaxed with the air of a batsman who had found the missing link in his game.
Shastri, it seemed, had asked Dhoni to maintain his shape irrespective of the shot, even when he was stepping back to make room or trying to play the cut of the backfoot. Apparently he had been making the mistake of trying to hit too hard while looking to find his range. Keeping the weight forward is the key.
Pandey is here to play Suresh Raina’s role of providing late impetus to the innings. He will not be as much on the radar of the Australians as the other big guns and that can be an advantage. Though inexperienced at the top level, he has shown the potential to be a destructive batsman in the Indian Premier League.
Jadeja, when he gets going, can be a dangerous batsman lower down the order. But he will have to deliver to keep his place in the team.
Dhoni has admitted that very few Indian batters are able to adjust to the No 6 position where Jadeja bats. Although they are good when the ball is pitched up, they are unable to clear the fence with pull shots, a weakness the oppositions have discovered.
Like South Africa, Australians are also targeting them with the short of length, chest-high line of attack. On these bigger grounds, it becomes even tougher to hit them out. The challenge has increased with the new rule that allows an additional fielder to man the outfield in the last 10 overs.
The three have their task cut out. If the wickets remain as batting friendly as in the opener, India’s chances in this series will depend heavily on these power-hitters.