Having played 112 out of his 246 innings at the No. 6 position with 3613 runs to his credit, finding a replacement for MS Dhoni’s batting position was never going to be an easy task for Team India.
As soon as the India skipper decided to promote himself to the No.4 position for the New Zealand series, it was clear that one of the youngsters would have to take the mantle of finishing the games.
India may have ended up on the winning side after a thumping performance against the Black Caps in the fifth and the final ODI at the ACA-VDCA Stadium on Saturday, but finding a finisher with the right temperament is still a work in process.
The reason Team India cannot take longer to unearth a finisher is because they are just three one-dayers (against England) away from embarking on their Champions Trophy title defence in England next year.
Of course, they have the Indian Premier League (IPL) before that, but T20 cricket is a completely different ball game from a 50-over match. Also, most of these Indian players have a different role when they join their respective IPL teams.
India tried out a few contenders who they thought could do the job for them in future. They shuffled the batting line-up between Kedar Jadhav, Manish Pandey, Hardik Pandya and Axar Patel during the five-match ODI series against the Kiwis.
Dhoni would have expected someone from Pandey and Jadhav to not just steady the middle order, but also steer the team to victory. Pandey, who had a good India ‘A’ tour to Australia, looked completely out of sorts in all the five matches, accumulating just 76 runs with a best of 28 not out.
Pandey’s adventurous slog sweep to open his account in the final clash was a needless one and one could see Virat Kohli, his partner at the other end, not appreciating it at all.
Jadhav’s all-round show in the series may be a positive for Team India, but they would have been happier to see him convert his starts into big scores.
Patel showed his ability with the bat when he was promoted to No 5 in the Ranchi ODI where he scored 38 off 40 balls.
Pandya will surely be on Dhoni’s radar as a genuine finisher considering the way he brought the team close to toppling the Kiwis in Delhi with his 32-ball 36.
After India’s inexperienced middle-order failed to chase a 261-run target at Ranchi, Dhoni urged everyone to remain patient. On Saturday after India’s series win over New Zealand, Dhoni again reiterated that the youngsters should be given time to develop.
“Kedar, Axar and Manish gained a lot of experience. It is difficult to get a complete product in international cricket, so the new players should be given time to develop. There are few ways to approach the game. (One is) the IPL way, you keep hitting and chase down. But in international arena, you fail and that’s when you become more calculative. It’s not necessary to win in 40 overs. You can do so in 50 as well,” said Dhoni at the presentation ceremony.
With India’s regular ODI players likely to return for the England series, it would lead to further shuffling of batting positions in the middle and lower order. Dhoni’s ultimate challenge will perhaps be having the right men at right positions to do the job for him in the Champions Trophy.