India vs Australia, 4th Test: Gearing up for life after Dhoni
India have middle order issues to sort out and bowling combinations to rethink following MS Dhoni's retirement ahead of the fourth and final Test in Sydney.cricket Updated: Jan 05, 2015 05:22 IST
Shouts of "Dhoni", "Dhoni" from the motley Indian fan presence near the nets made it hard to believe that the 33-year-old, though very much there, is really not part of the squad in the longest format. The rest of the team followed him soon after trying to shake off the rustiness of a five-day break.
Dhoni straightaway picked up the ball, marked out his run-up and began bowling in an empty net even before any of the batsmen could pad up.
There were talks that Dhoni might take some days off in Australia and join the team later once the Test series was over. But a heavily strapped thumb Wriddhiman Saha, his replacement behind the stumps, sported meant the once Captain Cool had to warm up at the nets, at least till Tuesday just in case.
For a moment it seemed as if Dhoni had not really announced his retirement from Tests.
If at all the Virat Kohli-led India team believes in greater clarity of communication, then Rohit Sharma could be the first one to vouch for it. Before the nets, Virat took Rohit to a corner for a one-on-one. The skipper spoke and Rohit listened quietly. Soon, team director Ravi Shastri took over and in almost similar fashion spoke to Rohit. Following that, the batting order was chalked out with top six having a go. Rohit didn't figure among them and ended up batting towards the end with the bowlers.
It cleared two things: Suresh Raina was being looked at as a middle order fill in and somewhere KL Rahul still figured in the larger scheme of things. Both Rahul and Raina had an extended batting session on Sunday. However, whether Rahul will be retained at the cost of a struggling Shikhar Dhawan, is still a long shot before Tuesday.
Ishant Sharma has a habit of taking time off from bowling at the nets. Considering the huge number of overs he had bowled in the three Tests, it was understandable that the lanky seamer was taking it easy rather than it was an injury that kept him away. Varun Aaron was back after attending his grandfather's funeral and the latest member Axar Patel too had his first bowling session with the team. Bhuvneshwar Kumar continued to impress both with the bat and ball and the extra time he got by not playing in the third Test appeared to have done him much good.
The management has a choice now: to swap Bhuvneshwar with Mohammed Shami and if Virat is convinced about going in with two regular spinners which both teams are hedging for at the moment going by the strong sun and the Sydney wicket, then R Ashwin can have Karn Sharma or Axar as partner. The former though will fancy his chances owing to his better acclimatisation to the conditions here.
Therein lies the dilemma: whether India can afford to go in with two spinners and two seamers or opt for a fifth bowler. The latter may not be a viable option in the face of Dhoni's retirement and the fact that Saha is yet to earn that Test batsman respect. The other option could just do away with bringing in Varun for Shami.
The void Dhoni has left seemed ironic when the man himself relentlessly bowled in the nets. It's difficult to gauge what the team was feeling. But India have always counted on him for that balance in the lower middle order, someone who can deal with the second new ball.
India now have some rearrangement to do in their middle order, with their bowling combination and a mental adjustment to a team without Dhoni.