India’s limited-overs captain MS Dhoni arrives in his home town, Ranchi, after a humiliating loss against Sri Lanka in the first of the three-match Twenty20 internationals. The Indian team’s batting capitulation on a grassy track exposed the team’s vulnerability when taken out of their comfort zone.
Dhoni now has to don the demanding role of leading his team’s fightback while also leading from the front, starting with Friday’s second T20 tie. However, Dhoni’s batting form has been lacklustre in both the ODIs and T20s.
His most recent knock of note came in the fifth and final ODI against Australia, when he scored a valiant 34 alongside Manish Pandey, who hit a brilliant century to lead India to a thrilling, consolation win. While the result called for appreciation, Dhoni’s knock still only showed glimpses of the devastating form of old his fans are accustomed to.
But in that moment, his leadership skills came to the fore as he rallied around Pandey and helped build a solid partnership that eventually gave India victory, handing some momentum going into the T20s that followed. The focus is now entirely on T20s with the World Twenty20 around the corner and India can’t afford to slip up with the Asia Cup to follow this series.
Dhoni’s T20 form needs to get better. In the last four games, his highest score has been 14. On Tuesday, he fell for two when India desperately needed him to build a partnership that could have provided a defendable total. Another defeat will mean a series loss against a second string Sri Lankan outfit.
In the past few years, Virat Kohli has been the batsman India has relied on to guide the innings. He was in roaring form in Australia but the in-form batsman has been rested for this series. That means Dhoni will need to put his hand up if the top-order batsmen fail.
The next two games provide the best opportunity for the man from Jharkhand to set his game straight. Speaking after the first T20I in Pune, Dhoni tried to focus on positives from the match.
“We all got a chance to bat,” he said. “We all got a look in while batting in positions that we will bat on in the World T20. It helps mentally to know that you spent some time in the middle.”
On Friday, when he bats in Ranchi --- it could well be for the last time before his home fans as there is speculation that he could announce his retirement after the World T20 --- it will provide him the perfect setting to find the motivation needed to propel the game with the force of his batting, something that will be crucial for India whether the pitches are fast or slow.