Before the series started, team director Ravi Shastri suggested that skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni needs to be freed of the shackles of responsibility. And after India’s embarrassing defeat in the Cuttack Twenty20 international on Monday, Dhoni too agreed, saying he wanted to give up his role as finisher and bat up the order.
While these are early days as far as batting up the order and with freedom are concerned, it has brought the focus more on his current lack of form. So, it didn’t come as a surprise when Shastri paid special attention as Dhoni batted at the Eden Gardens on Wednesday afternoon.
While he watched the rest of the flock bat, standing diagonally across the batsmen at the nets, he stood right behind when Dhoni came to bat. He intently watched every shot Dhoni played---they were a mixture of miscues, heaves as well as his patent shots. Shastri took note of a few things before moving back to his original position. It wasn’t clear if Shastri had nudged Dhoni to play in a particular way, but his standing behind the nets had intent.
With India 0-2 down in the T20 segment at the start of a tough contest across three formats, Dhoni and Shastri have a lot to weave together, apart from backing each other on decisions. The T20 series is lost, and one may not know how much India had invested in the series as Dhoni was open to experiment and try out a few options before the real deal comes around --- next year’s World T20. For Shastri, it was pretty much like Virat Kohli’s failures in England last year against swing and seam movement, and his subsequently finding rich form in Australia where Shastri advised Kohli to stand outside the crease to disturb the bowlers’ length. Dhoni’s not-so-great form and a fresh batting position also surely figures as a top priority.
For the captain and coach, rest of the batting is less of a problem but finding a core bowling unit surely is an issue. It is clear from the two matches so far that the pace combination needs to be revisited.
No express bowler, no death over specialist, and the possibility of executing the yorker well too diminishes with a bunch of medium-pacers. India cannot afford to rely only on spinners to make up for their pacers’ misery. While casting away those excess for requirement in the bowling department, the captain and team director may have to start thinking of their final squad for the World T20. The reinforcement of the attack with bowlers marked out for the bigger games must start now. Losing the series cannot be a great way to build the team for next year’s event.
With the series lost, India may include some of the untried players in the playing eleven. A few changes here and there could well trigger a resurgence; or at least that is what Harbhajan Singh believes. “We were 0-1 in Sri Lanka but ended up winning the Test series. It was because of the belief we had. We have lost the series, but we still have a lot to play for in the final game. The ODIs are coming up and then the Tests. We want to play our best game tomorrow.
Hopefully we will win tomorrow and from there on it could be a different story. Once we start winning, we will be a difficult side to beat,” said Harbhajan.
To turn that optimism into reality, the recalibration by Dhoni and Shastri looks set to begin.