Harbhajan Singh, R Ashwin and Amit Mishra looking to impart revs on the ball and following one another in their run-up at the far corner of the training ground nets suggested India were having a conclave of spinners. Axar Patel was sharpening his throwing and catching across the field. All four spinners are vying for skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s attention. Now, that is not taking into account Suresh Raina’s occasional off-spin.
It only reflects Dhoni’s affinity for spinners. He sees that as the core strength to such an extent that his spinners in the ODIs often bowl even those overs that one would expect to be the pacers’ quota.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar has repeatedly not been bowled his full quota due to this push for spinners. Dhoni has given his reasons while defending his heavy dependence on spinners - dew, lack of death bowlers, brown turners, concern over penalty for slow over rate etc.
As India gear up for the tour opening Twenty20 against South Africa on Friday, it is back to Dhoni’s school of leadership, which is stifling the opposition with spin. It is a format where conceding 7-8 runs an over is far more appealing to Dhoni than pinning hopes on pace without being sure what would be the amount of damage.
Dhoni’s spin plans go beyond this series. With one eye on the ICC WorldT20 to be played in India early next year, he has made it clear how the three-match T20 series will be a dress rehearsal for finalising his spin combination.
“We have four spinners in the team and a few part timers, but at the same time we have three proper fast bowlers and a seaming all-rounder. It gives that luxury of going with the right combination depending on the scenario. For example, we feel we may get a bit more dew here than at some of the other places. If that is the case, we will pick the side accordingly. Depending on such conditions, we will decide whether to go with three spinners or three fast bowlers. At the same time, we have to decide whether we want a leg spinner, off-spinner or left-arm spinner if we can experiment with that,” said Dhoni.
“Usually when we play two spinners, one has to be a better batsman as we don’t have a very good seaming all-rounder. We have to weigh all these things. Also, looking at the larger picture with the World T20 coming up, we may not get the same amount of dew. It is good to give them exposure but at the same time you need to give the guys who have done well in the IPL a go at international level.”
With the top six batsmen and one or two options in hand, Dhoni doesn’t have much to worry about batting. Instead, he plans a spin churn with revolving roles, not worrying too much about results.
His captaincy philosophy also extends to staying cool, as against the overt aggression in the Test squad under Virat Kohli.
“The meaning of aggression is quite different,” Dhoni said. “We always feel aggression is physical contact or exchange of words, but it is not about that. Rahul Dravid once said aggression is a good forward defence shot to a very fast bowler. Our guys are also learning to manage their aggression, channelise them.
“It’s good to be aggressive but at the same time you have to follow the guidelines and make sure all players are available. There shouldn’t be a case where players have disciplinary action against them.”
He may have quit Test cricket, but Dhoni’s statement poked at Ishant Sharma’s behaviour in Sri Lanka which has led to a ban from the first Test against South Africa.
It points to the fundamentally different approach to the captaincy of Dhoni and Kohli. For now, it will be Dhoni’s template.