While it could be said that the Indian bowling has been incapable of defending 300-plus totals, does Indian skipper MS Dhoni have any defence for his team’s disastrous chase at Canberra?
Nobody could have even foreseen India, chasing 349, would fall from a position of 277/1 in 38 overs to be all out for 323, but then anything can happen in cricket. The Indian batting, barring the top three, fell like nine pins, handing the hosts a 25-run victory and a 4-0 series lead.
The defeat has only ignited the debate about the finishers in the Indian ranks.
The drama began after Dhoni, India’s accomplished finisher, fell. He jumped out to John Hastings off the third ball he faced, nicking it behind to fall for zero. Soon Kohli walked back and the rest collapsed, succumbing to pressure. Chasing almost seven runs an over, the top three gave a perfect chance for a consolation win but the middle-order collapse allowed the Aussies to tighten the noose.
The Indian skipper though took the blame for the defeat. “I think it was my wicket that changed the game. I take the blame specifically because my role is to finish off the game well. I accept that my wicket was the turning point in the match,” said Dhoni, who had walked in when India needed just 71 runs in 12 overs.
In the past, the fans would have expected Dhoni to smash the attack from that stage, the finest example being the 2011 World Cup final in Mumbai. However, his prowess has been on a steady decline over the last two years.
Since January 2014, Dhoni has played 36 ODIs. India have lost 19 and won 15. Dhoni has conceded his third ODI series as captain on the trot after the 2015 World Cup and his captaincy is under scrutiny. Though the selectors have shown immense faith in the 34-year-old and handed the team’s command till the World T20 in March-April, things certainly don’t look rosy.
A closer look at his statistics tells you that his tag as the country’s finest finisher is not justified when it comes to chases. In 55 matches featuring Dhoni that India have chased and lost, he averages 27.74. In many of these defeats, his dismissals have come at crunch situations. In the home series against South Africa, he thrice fell during chases. The 2014 series in New Zealand was no different.
At Napier, chasing 292, Dhoni was caught behind on 40 off 46 balls in the 43rd over leaving India stranded on 224/5. India lost by 24 runs in the 49th over. At Leeds in the preceding series, he laboured to 29 off 42 balls before falling in the 37th over chasing England’s 294. It triggered a collapse as the team lost by 41 runs.
Against Bangladesh at Dhaka in last year, India, chasing 307, were 115/4. With 193 required from 27 overs, Dhoni came in into bat. His five runs in seven balls led to India being dismissed in the 46th over to lose by 79 runs.
Needless to say, India lost all the three series mentioned here.
At Canberra, it wasn’t a tough situation for someone like Dhoni. With the pitch suited for batting, it was just a matter of accumulating runs. But his wicket left an inexperienced lot to face the music. Rahane’s split web made matters worse and Dhoni should have played mentor to newcomers Gurkeerat Mann and Rishi Dhawan, who failed under pressure.
Since his retirement from Tests in Australia early last year, Dhoni has played infrequently for India. While it doesn’t seem to have affected his fitness, the rustiness is hurting his batting fluency. With another series defeat bringing his captaincy under pressure, and his role has finisher significantly eroded, it is time the selectors look beyond Dhoni for Indian cricket’s future.