By Nishad Pai Vaidya
Mahendra Singh Dhoni is known for his frank talking, but it was surprising to hear him say at the end of The Oval Test, “We tried our best and that’s what is important.”
If the “abject surrender” is India’s best in the opinion of their captain, then he certainly needs to set do some rethinking to raise the bar. Winston Churchill once said, “It is no use saying, ‘We are doing our best. You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary.’ “
India were nowhere close to being successful in doing what they had to as the painful scorecards of each Test match suggests. Dhoni’s justification that Team India tried their best is laughable and rejected by most right-thinking cricket fan. In fact, far too many respected names in world cricket were aghast at the casualness of the Indian players, questioning their commitment in no unambiguous terms.
With the exception of Dravid, the Indian batting was total failure in the Test series. They failed to put the runs on the board and collapsed like a pack of cards repeatedly.
Dhoni said before the final Test: “We are a side more known for our batting, so our priority will be to put runs on the board.” And that’s what India will be striving for in the ODI series. But the absence of Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh will not help their cause as they are two genuine match-winners. On the positive side, the squad has several new players for the ODIs will bring in freshness to a struggling unit. The team management will have some thinking to do regarding the batting combination that would give India the right impetus to script wins.
India have a good break before the start of the limited-overs leg of the tour and in that interval they will play three practice games. It is certainly a good chance for the players who have just arrived in England as it would give them time to adjust to conditions, something the Test team missed. It gives India a good opportunity to sort out their batting order and formulate the right combination to do well in the ODIs.
If Gautam Gambhir recovers from his injury, he will open the batting with Sachin Tendulkar. Gambhir had to bat at No 3 in the World Cup due to the presence of both Tendulkar and Sehwag. Whenever Sehwag or Tendulkar have missed a game, Gambhir has opened the batting to good effect and is without doubt a big match player. He didn’t have a good Test series and would want to turn things around in the ODIs. In case Gambhir doesn’t recover, India can call upon Parthiv Patel to open as he has done that job well since his comeback late last year.
Virat Kohli, the youngest batsman in the squad, should walk in at No 3. Kohli has batted at that position for India in ODIs in the past and has shown that he has the technique and the temperament to do well in that vital spot. In fact, three of his five ODI hundreds have come at No 3. The best part of his batting is that he rotates strike early on and can switch gears when required.
Kohli should be followed by Rohit Sharma at No 4. Rohit has been criticized in the past for not living up to his potential at the highest level. His performances on the tour to the West Indies indicated that he is ready to put the past behind him and deliver his best for the national team. The West Indies tour would have given him good confidence but he needs to use this England series to cement his place and prove that he can be consistent in the big league.
We now move into the middle-order where Rahul Dravid would shoulder the responsibility of providing solidity. For this series it is important that he bats at No 5 as it would give the middle- order much needed solidity. Some people may say that it is too low down the order for a batsman of his caliber, but the Indian team needs stability in the middle and there is no one better than him to do that job. He would be required to rotate the strike and play a supporting role if any of the top four are dominating the bowling.
Dravid should be followed by the power-hitting of Dhoni. The Indian captain is the sort of a batsman who can be used as a floater in the batting order. His position can change according to the situation but if things are going right with the top five, the No 6 position is the best one for him. Dhoni’s strength is his adaptability (his knock in the World Cup final being the best example) and that would provide the batting order with a lot of flexibility.
The real selection dilemma for India comes at the No 7 spot. Yuvraj Singh’s absence means that somebody else would have bowl the 10 overs of the fifth bowler and none of India’s batsmen can bowl the entire quota. If India opt to play Suresh Raina at No 7, they would need at least three of their batsmen to chip in with the ball. Raina, Kohli and Rohit may have to bowl in tandem to complete the quota of the fifth bowler.
However, Dhoni may have second thoughts as Raina is having a torrid time with the bat and would be tempted to play Amit Mishra as the fifth bowler and a potential batsman at No 7. Although Mishra isn’t having a very good tour with the ball, he has done brilliantly with the bat. He may not be a bad option at No 7 as he can swing his willow around and add crucial runs. The thing about him is that he has good technique and can play a good supporting role when required.
India’s top six are set and the only decision they would have to make is whether or not they want to play the seventh batsman. If they play seven batsmen then Raina should walk in but if Dhoni wants to play the fifth bowler then Mishra is a good option.
The absence of Yuvraj has certainly upset the balance of the team.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 20-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.")