By Nishad Pai Vaidya
A clinical performance with the bat in their first One-Day International (ODI) after a long lay-off may have eased concerns of rustiness, but it wasn’t an entirely happy affair for India at Hambantota. Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his men were docked a percentage of their match-fees for their failure to maintain a good over. It has become a far too frequent occurrence under Dhoni’s captaincy and he has attracted the highest possible penalty on a few occasions. Yet, nothing seems to have changed as India continues to violate the guidelines and take their own time in finishing their allotted overs.
Earlier this year, Dhoni had missed a Test and an ODI after his failure to get his team to complete their overs on time. He was banned for the Adelaide Test against Australia after India fell two overs short of the over-rate during the Perth Test. This was his second offence in the 12 months preceding the incident as he was cautioned and docked a percentage of his match fee after the Barbados Test against West Indies in July 2011. If one goes further back in time, one would find that he was fined after the Cape Town Test against South Africa in January 2011.
The timeline of Dhoni’s over-rate related offences are a touch longer in the ODI arena. In December 2009, a two-match ban was enforced as India completed their overs 45 minutes behind schedule during a tense finish against Sri Lanka at Nagpur. Such was the severity of the offence that the match-referee didn’t hesitate to enforce the harshest penalty. It fell under the category of “"serious over-rate offence" which warrants a ban instead of a fine. Fast forward to February 2012 when India were involved in the Commonwealth Bank series in Australia, Dhoni was banned for a game for his second over-rate offence in a year, the first one coming during the World Cup final of 2011.
In 2011, the rules regarding minor over-rate offences were made more stringent as it was announced that captains would be banned following two such breaches in a period of 12 months. Now that Dhoni has been penalised in Sri Lanka, another ban would rule him out of a subsequent ODI. Thus, he would have to be more careful and urgent on the field as the ban has to be avoided at all costs.
What is more worrying is that Dhoni & Company haven’t learnt from the past experiences. Considering the number of times he has been cautioned and banned, they should have taken not of their short-comings and shown more urgency on the field.
Lacking a sense of urgency
There have been many occasions where the Indians have shown a casual attitude while changing ends after overs. The lethargic attitude is a major contributing factor to the slow over-rate.
During close finishes – one that demand a number of changes in the field and discussions with other team-mates – a team may breach the time limit. This may have been the reason for India’s breach at Hambantota as Sri Lanka looked good to get close to the Indian target in the final overs.
Going back to Dhoni’s ban in December 2009, it was clear that the match situation has been a pivotal factor in Dhoni being banned. In fact, Jeff Crowe, the match-referee made it clear, “I accept the fact that the ultimate desire of the Indian side was to win the match but at the same time it had deadlines to meet and also fulfill the responsibilities it owed to the stakeholders."
The factors that are under his control can help him avoid such bans in the future. If they are wasting time between overs, Dhoni can ask his team mates to have a move on. Secondly, he can get the bowlers to set the field faster so that there aren’t too many stoppages. Things like injuries, sight- screen issues and the batsmen calling for drinks etc. aren’t in Dhoni’s hand and he can just hope that these things aren’t too frequent during the innings. And in any case, the match referee will take into consideration that these things are not in the captain’s hands.
The captain, being the leader, has the prime responsibility of marshalling his troops and getting them to complete the task at hand. At the same time, it is imperative that the players respond and make things easier for him. It is time they help Dhoni avoid yet another match-ban and such breaches in the future. It may have happen on the odd occasion, but the fact that it is recurrent is irritating for any Indian supporter.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a club-level cricketer with an analytic mind and a sharp eye. It was this sharpness which spotted a wrong replay in IPL4 resulting in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. Some of his analytical pieces have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. Nishad can also be followed on Twitter)