India’s sagging middle-order again turns spotlight on MS Dhoni’s batting
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India’s sagging middle-order again turns spotlight on MS Dhoni’s batting

Former India skipper MS Dhoni is unable to explode with the bat as in the past and a shaky middle-order has added to the worries of Virat Kohli’s team in the ODI series vs South Africa.

cricket Updated: Feb 12, 2018 20:18 IST
Khurram Habib
Khurram Habib
Hindustan Times, Port Elizabeth
MS Dhoni,India vs South Africa,South Africa vs India
MS Dhoni, the batsman, will be under the spotlight in India’s remaining two ODIs against South Africa.(AFP)

With the top order and spinners going well for India in the first three games, the failure of the middle order didn’t look conspicuous. However, when the spinners wilted under pressure in the last game at Wanderers, India’s inability to get a big total stood exposed.

In an age when 300 isn’t considered a safe total due to batting-friendly conditions, a good finish is necessary. Over the last two games, the India No 4, 5 and 7 have struggled, putting the focus and pressure on MS Dhoni who batted at No 6.

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While he failed at Cape Town (10 off 22 balls) as Kohli carried India past 300, he made an unbeaten 42 (43 balls) at Johannesburg to take India to 289. Though it is harsh to dismiss Dhoni’s effort considering batsmen at the other end flopped, there is no denying that had he shown a bit more urgency, it may have helped India post a more imposing target.

Over the last 20 innings where he has played at least 20 balls, Dhoni has had a strike rate of over 100 only thrice. It has been below that on 17 other occasions. While there have been instances like in Mumbai against New Zealand and in Chennai against Australia, where he came in with India struggling (144/4 and 87/5 respectively) and had to dig deep, there have also been instances, like in the last two games, when the need was to hit out and he failed.

Compare that to his early days. In his first 20 innings where he had played more than 20 balls, he had 12 knocks with a strike rate of over 100, making him a perfect finisher.

With an eye on the 2019 World Cup, the Indian team management is trying to groom finishers.

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“We want to give batsmen other than Dhoni a chance to go out there and take the responsibility of taking the game to the finish. We want more finishers and want to groom more finishers. We want our Nos 5, 6 and 7 to go out there and learn the rotation,” said fielding coach R Sridhar.

Shikhar Dhawan was asked about the failing middle order, but refused to see it as a problem. However, if it keeps failing in the lead up to the World Cup, the pressure to provide that final fillip will get to Dhoni. He had been tried at No 5 to shore up the middle order. But that idea seems to have been dropped.

The former skipper has had a mixed run. While he did well in the ODIs in Sri Lanka last year, although mostly at a strike rate of less than 100 while playing innings that rescued India, his excruciatingly slow knock against West Indies in an ODI in Antigua last year cost India the match and earned brickbats.

Both India spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav have credited Dhoni with guiding them in tough match situations.

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On Monday, Sridhar praised his wicketkeeping, saying Dhoni has his own way and his reflexes are still sharp. All this and his experience make him a certainty for the World Cup.

But with an uncertain middle and lower middle order, especially the lack of a finisher, he needs to offer some more than what he does.

Tuesday’s game here at St George’s Park, where scoring is said to be difficult and where India have never got more than 200, will be another big batting Test for India.

First Published: Feb 12, 2018 19:44 IST