Mahendra Singh Dhoni has never seen a bowler like Ajantha Mendis, and even after playing him a couple of times it's not clear just what method will work against the unorthodox spinner. "The trouble is in picking him, I have not seen any bowler like this. He is an unusual bowler. The only option right now is to play more and more of him, that's the only way of getting better," said Dhoni, soon after India slumped to a big loss in the first ODI.
But even on the occasions that the batsmen have been able to pick Mendis' variations, the going has been difficult. "Even if you pick him, by the time you realise what ball it is, it gets really late to play a big shot. You will see batsmen who can play him, but in one-day cricket it is not only about playing him. You have to rotate the strike because you don't want a bowler to end up with ten overs for 20 runs," said Dhoni. "We will need to find a way by which we can rotate the strike, if not play big shots. You can't score 180 or 200 and look to defend that. You have to get a decent score for which we will have to score off each and every bowler."
While Mendis walked away with the big wickets, Muttiah Muralitharan, introduced as late as the 27th over, chipped in with three of his own.
"Murali and Mendis are different bowlers. Murali can turn the ball on any wicket. He loves Sri Lankan wickets," said Dhoni. "Even when he bowls fast, he gets some purchase out of the wicket. No other spinner would have got so much turn."
Dhoni also underscored the importance of batsmen getting good starts before Mendis and Murali came on. "It's important to get a good start. In the last two games, we lost quick wickets. When you are playing Mendis, you have to save wickets and get the runs as well," he said. "It gets a bit tough. With time, batsmen will get used to it. Even Murali sometime back, was difficult. Mendis is a bit more unusual than Muralitharan."
Dhoni also admitted that he had misread the pitch and perhaps fielding first would have been a better option.
"To start with, we misread the wicket a bit. We did not think it would seam or swing that much," he said. "There was a fair bit in the wicket to start off. The Sri Lankan bowlers bowled really well. They got the first two batsmen out, it was not like the batsmen played bad shots and got out. Credit goes to their fast bowlers."
Dhoni also conceded that the team might consider playing an extra batsman in the games to follow. "We may look at a different composition as well," he said. "Whatever fits the team best, we will decide on that." firstname.lastname@example.org