MS Dhoni at No. 7 wasn’t my decision alone: Team India’s batting coach Sanjay Bangar - Exclusive
India’s semi-final exit at the World Cup may have been a matter of ‘45 minutes of bad cricket’ in a long tournament with many shining performances. Yet, there were some glaringly obvious drawbacks too, and most of the post-World Cup analysis has centred around India’s batting performance. For the first time since the tournament, India’s batting coach Sanjay Bangar tackles those issues head on.
The former India allrounder, who took charge in 2014 and has guided the team in 50 Tests and 119 ODIs dissects the campaign where he says India “batted magnificently”, but simply failed at one crucial moment. Before leaving for the tour of the West Indies, Bangar also said the team was “extremely disappointed with the semi-final exit”, but he was “proud of the brand of cricket played”.
How would you rate the overall batting performance in the World Cup?
India batted magnificently against the top teams; the chase we did against South Africa on a challenging wicket, the 350-run target we set against Australia, the way we batted against Pakistan in a crunch game under overcast conditions, the way we got to 270 on a difficult wicket against the West Indies and the way the team batted against Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and England — except in the last five overs — was phenomenal. If you look at the figures, we were second only to England as far as our batting performances were concerned. A lot of players finished with high averages and there were seven hundreds and 12 half centuries scored. England and India jointly scored the highest number of centuries. The team as a whole played fabulous cricket and to top the league after nine rounds was a fabulous performance.
Only in those 30- 40 minutes in the initial phase of the semi-finals where we lost three crucial wickets in the chase against New Zealand (which cost us a final berth), the team fought right till the end. Had Dhoni and Jadeja crossed the line, this would have been an exceptional run chase. We were extremely disappointed with our exit but equally proud of the brand of cricket we played.
There were times during the World Cup when you were criticised; one was when you said at a press conference that Vijay Shankar was fit and the next morning he was ruled out.
During the entire press conference, not a single question was asked from me about Vijay Shankar’s fitness. There were questions about Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, there were questions about Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s fitness and whether Ravindra Jadeja would be in the mix of things. During a press conference, it is not just me who is speaking; we also take the opinion of the physio as far as injuries are concerned. The injuries are monitored on a daily basis. Vijay got injured on June 19; he played matches on June 22 and 27. After the match on June 27, he felt pain in his left foot and was taken for an X-ray the next morning where it was diagnosed that he had a minor fracture. The physio said Vijay couldn’t bowl without pain. The team management decided to use him as a batting option. But during the next match (June 30), KL Rahul got injured and didn’t field for the remainder of the innings but went out to bat. The team management was a bit worried that if Rahul couldn’t cope with injury then we wouldn’t have any other opener. After the game, late in the evening, the physio updated the selectors on mail about Shankar’s exact position and thereafter a replacement was sought.
There was also debate on MS Dhoni’s batting number in the semis. Was it at your insistence that Dhoni was sent at No. 7 against New Zealand?
I am really flattered that people are looking at me from this angle because I am not the sole decision-making authority. Believe me, we assess and go through a lot of situations.
At the start of the World Cup campaign, specific roles were given to the batting group. We had also decided that we would have to be flexible in the middle order as far as No. 5, 6 and 7 were concerned because we were looking to maximise the 30-40 over slab. And, the individuals were well aware of it. Virat also stated in his press conference after the semi-finals that after the Afghanistan game, it was decided that Dhoni could bat a little lower down (till that point he had batted at No 5), so that he could play post the 35th over as he could accelerate in the death overs and also take care of the lower order with his experience. So, he was slated to bat at No 6 in the semis.
Dinesh Karthik was promoted to No 5 after consultations in the changing room to stem the fall of wickets and resurrect the innings and leave Dhoni, our most experienced player, to do the finisher’s job. Ravi Shastri has categorically stated that it was a team decision. So, I fail to understand why this perception that the decision to send Dhoni at No. 7 was solely mine.
There were also reports that a batsman sought the help of a former great to help him overcome his bad patch?
I believe in the fact that you have to be a student of the game; the day you say you know everything, I think you stop growing, you stop learning. As far as a player going to a former India great is concerned… at the National Cricket Academy, we have a lot of former cricketers who played with great distinction for the country…(they are) attached in the role of coaches or mentors, players like Rahul Dravid, Kiran More and Narendra Hirwani. If a player benefits from India A coaches, it is only helpful for all concerned. It’s just that I am also working on the player simultaneously when the player returns to the Indian team.
You would also find a wrist spinner going to Shane Warne or left-arm fast bowlers going to Wasim Akram. It is only going to help the player. At times, even I have discussed certain options with Rahul (Dravid) and Sachin Tendulkar on how they would have dealt with certain changes.
Have you reapplied for the job?
The BCCI press note said that the current coaching staff would be automatic entrants. I have reapplied and I believe that when our association with the team started in 2014 under Ravi’s leadership — and we were No. 6 or 7 in both formats and from there on the kind of work we have done with the team —the results are there for everyone to see. During this period, India played 50 Tests, of which we won 28, and in 120 ODIs we won 80. We have consistently been the No. 1 team in ICC rankings for the last three seasons, which is something that has not been achieved since the rankings started. The team has progressed admirably. The motivation is to taste World Cup and ICC Test Championship glory.
Having been associated with the team, having understood the players and having formed a strong bond, having set a team culture, it takes a long time to lay down those work ethics.
Given an opportunity, we will definitely like to continue and bring success in the T20 World Cup and the ICC Test Championship.