By Derek Abraham
A cavalier definition of street-smartness would be ‘intelligence gained outside of school’. And given that Mahendra Singh Dhoni is the master of all things unconventional, it is unlikely that he would have heard of Alfred S Humphrey, the renowned management consultant who formulated the technique, SWOT analysis. A key objective of the system is to help business ventures identify their weaknesses and convert them into strengths which, ultimately, would boost profit. In that sense, the India skipper is pretty much like an entrepreneur vying to double, or even triple, his returns.
The good thing is Dhoni knows his team inside out. Over the past 12 months, the batting unit has seldom disappointed, often making up for the careless and, at times, indifferent approach of the bowlers. But not once has Dhoni snapped at or slammed — at least not in public — the Ishant Sharmas, Umesh Yadavs and Vinay Kumars for giving away fours and sixes like toffees. “You must understand that these are good conditions for batting,” he would defend them with the earnest of a soldier at the border. “If you see, the opposition bowlers are far more experienced and even they could not defend a 350-plus total,” he would go on.
He would then talk about the dew factor and what not. The other culprits are, of course, the Shikhar Dhawans, Rohit Sharmas and Virat Kohlis, each of whom has made chasing mighty targets seem as easy as chewing bubble gum. And as a result, the bowlers have repeatedly gotten away with murder.
All that must, and will, change over the next one week and beyond. As India take on the Proteas in the first of three ODIs at the Wanderers, aka The Bullring, here on Thursday, the bowlers will be expected to wake up from their slumber. And, they have good reason to. For, they are in South Africa: a land where cricket is a contest between bat and ball, not a game of bat thumping ball; where the cherry says hello to the batsman’s throat, not shins; and where bowlers have enough reasons to punch you twice if you hit them once.
We are talking ‘role reversal’ here. In Ishant, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Shami, Yadav and Mohit, India have a pace attack with all the ingredients — pace, swing, verve and variations — required to succeed on these strips. The moot point is that it would be unfair to expect the batsmen to continue in the same vein of form on a foreign land where the wickets are green and juicy, not brown and bone-dry. And to quote AB de Villiers, the South Africa skipper, the pitch for the first ODI “has a lot of grass”.
Moreover, India haven’t played a warm-up game. Yes, they’ve had a couple of strenuous training sessions on bouncy pitches, but what’s the fun in facing your own teammates again and again! And in that sense, it is the bowlers who must rise to the occasion and assume bulk of the responsibility. They did the same to good effect in England where India won the ICC Champions Trophy.
Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander, Jacques Kallis, Hashim Amla and de Villiers won’t be the only ones bothering Dhoni. The most crucial challenge would be to continue the phenomenal run the team’s had across formats and continents. Six straight ODI trophies sounds good; seven in a row would sound great. Remember South Africa is the only country where India haven’t won an ODI series or, for that matter, a Test rubber. This is a ‘final frontier’ of sorts, then.
Not to forget, this is the team’s — and Dhoni’s — first big assignment after those forgettable disasters in England and Australia in 2011-12. Yes, this is a different team altogether, but the scars always remain.
Dhoni would be itching to delete that 8-0 scoreline from his and our psyches. That process will have to start on Thursday and gain steam as they travel for the rest of the series.
In any case, it’s never cool to annoy your hosts. This South African team, ranked No. 5 in ODIs and No. 1 in Tests, deserves more than just three ODIs and two Tests against blockbuster visitors like India, ranked No. 1 and 2, respectively, in both formats. There is resentment here and it’s understandable. Haroon Lorgat and N Srinivasan should have taken their fight into a boxing ring.
Instead, they chose to let the game of cricket suffer.
But like both the captains said, all that “doesn’t matter”.
(The writer is Principal Correspondent at DNA, where the above article first appeared)
Also on cricketcountry.com