Despite the lack of competition in the India-New Zealand series final match in Visakhapatnam, India captain MS Dhoni would be a fairly relieved man as he was under pressure after the visitors tied things at 2-2 .
Dhoni’s bowlers won him the last match. And if Dhoni looks back to this series, the biggest takeaway for him would be the number of bowlers he has gained from this series. It wouldn’t have been possible had he not played a few punts --- making Kedar Jadhav the mystery spinner, opening the bowling with Hardik Pandya, or tying the loose ends with Amit Mishra.
In that way, this series has been a departure of sorts for India. Had R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Mohammed Shami played , India could have won with a comfortable margin. Two scenarios forced Dhoni to think different --- a long India-England Test series that required India’s top bowlers to take rest, and the Champions Trophy that starts just after the Indian Premier League next year.
For almost a decade now, the IPL has been a breeding ground of players who can produce cameos with the ball or bat. But in ODIs, the stint in the middle is longer and hence potential players need a longer tuning in. Given the ODI series against England in January comprises just three matches, the series against New Zealand had to be the testing ground for the Champions Trophy.
Dhoni is a firm believer in not changing too many things but even he could say most of his experiments went off well. By not giving Kedar Jadhav a full quota of overs even once, he made him look unpredictable for the Kiwis. In Mishra’s case, Dhoni allowed the leg-spinner to be himself --- tossing the ball at irresistible lengths for the batsmen. Thankfully for Mishra and Dhoni, those deliveries fetched more wickets than runs. It would be unfair not to mention the contributions of Axar Patel, Umesh Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah in this context.
Patel did everything that Jadeja would have done at his position. Not only was he able to tie down the runs in the middle overs, he even brought India close to a victory in Ranchi.
Bumrah and Yadav deserve special mention simply because of their contribution despite the small roles assigned to them. If Bumrah was spot on with his blockhole deliveries, Yadav should be applauded for keeping his economy under six and showing more control with the new ball.
Pandya however was the punt of this series. Not only was he successful opening the bowling in Dharamsala, he proved his utility in the middle overs by taking the wicket of Martin Guptill just when he was opening up for a huge innings in Ranchi.
What should bring back creases on Dhoni’s forehead is India’s inconsistent batting. Barring Virat Kohli’s stupendous form, this has been a strange series for India. Ajinkya Rahane was made to open the batting with Rohit Sharma but not for a single match did they click together.
Rahane scored 57 in the fourth ODI and Sharma salvaged a poor series with a 70 in Visakhapatnam but Dhoni needed to see if they could stitch a solid opening partnership. Manish Pandey was given a decent outing but he still looks in the need of a few more to get in the groove.
Biggest confusion has been created by Dhoni himself. For three successive matches, Dhoni came at No.4 to try his luck setting up wins rather than finishing. While it certainly makes more sense for him to come up the order when India are setting targets, the jury is still out whether he should have left a young middle order the job of pulling off an improbable chase in Ranchi.
If Dhoni is looking at Pandya as the next finisher then he better make him get a proper feel of that in the ODI series against England. Given the short duration of that series though, a lot would depend on how Dhoni guides him when it matters.