Eye on World Cup, India must build middle order around MS Dhoni 2.0
In successive ODIs, MS Dhoni has produced contrasting innings. © AFP

There are times I get angry when I watch Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli bat.

The manner in which these two have decimated all attacks in white ball cricket has made me and millions spoilt. They make batting look so easy. So much so that we expect the same ease when an Ambati Rayudu or Kedar Jadhav is batting.

But therein lies the real problem.

Such has been the overpowering dominance of India’s Nos 1, 2 and 3 that we have been blissfully unaware that from 4 to 7, the core middle order is not yet settled. With only 11 games left before we face South Africa in Southampton in the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup opener on June 5, there are some issues with batting order and team balance that we need to address. (ALSO READ: Kohli, Dhoni cancel out Marsh hundred as India level series)

Unfortunately it’s been a while and there hasn’t been a solution found. The new MS Dhoni avatar has added to the puzzle. So much so that for the past quite a few years Indian captains have wanted to chase totals but for the past two games Virat at the toss mentioned his keenness to bat. Maybe that thought process has stemmed from the current middle order situation.

Dhoni can still hit sixes, but not as frequently as earlier.
Dhoni can still hit sixes, but not as frequently as earlier. (Image: BCCI)

It is not rocket science that he is not the same player he used to. The change in his game has been visible for the last couple of years but the issue was not resolved; in fact it was shoved under the carpet. Now as it stands, it would be unfair and in my opinion that train has left the station. It seems to be too late to try anyone and the only solution I see is build the middle order around Dhoni 2.0. (ALSO READ: ‘Tonight was an MS classic’: Virat Kohli)

Without a shadow of doubt, he’s a natural leader and a great cricketing mind but he needs more help to finish games than he did maybe half a decade ago. Dhoni’s role is to be the sheet anchor and manage the innings while hitters playing around him is how I see things panning out. The team will look to capitalise his game reading and calmness to manage the innings. The second ODI was the perfect example of creating the middle-order strategy around Dhoni.

At No 4, Rayudu has looked the part so far. His ability to rotate strike complements the top 3 batters specially Virat. Even though his call to retire from domestic cricket baffles me. Coming to Australia without playing any competitive games was evident in the last two games. (ALSO READ: There is no doubt that Dhoni should be a part of this team: Kohli)

Ambati Rayudu © Getty Images
Ambati Rayudu is India’s No 4, but appears short of match practice. © Getty

At Nos 5, 6 and 7 with Dhoni being one of them, I’d look at batters with the ability to hit big. Names that come straight away to my mind are Dinesh Karthik, Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya. But the fact with the latter two are, they are not finished products and can be temperamental, and that’s where Dhoni’s game reading and calmness comes in.            The other option could be Jadhav. He seems to have the experience, game and temperament to manage the challenges. His fitness issues have not helped his cause though.

One of the main reasons he would be my choice is because of his bowling. I’m a big fan of the ‘sixth bowling option’ school of thought and Kedar fits the bill to the T. Hardik, for his all-round abilities, is a very important cog in the wheel but his current predicament has thrown a spanner in the same figurative wheel. He has to take responsibility for his words and actions, take it on the chin and move on. I just hope his and KL Rahul’s sentence is proportionate to what they’ve done and not caught up in a ‘making them an example’ mindset.

Every World Cup squad that I can think off has had its fair share of surprise/inspired selection. With talents in the wings like Shubman Gill, Shreyas Iyer, Krunal Pandya and Mohammed Siraj , I wouldn’t be surprised to see a bit of a surprise in this one either. While the team more or less looks settled, the feel would only come when the middle order conundrum is resolved and for that to happen the key for me is re-evaluate Dhoni’s role, re-assess our expectations of him and then re-calibrate accordingly.