It's time for national selectors to pack off seniors playing on past reputation than current form

Does Virender Sehwag deserve a place in the ODI team? © Getty Images

By Rohit Ramachandran Poduval

No matter how poorly the other 10 Indian players on the field perform, it’s Mahendra Singh Dhoni who comes in for most of the flak. Dhoni hit the nail on the head when he mentioned that he has become the new punching bag of Team India. Sachin Tendulkar has copped it for a long time, now it is Dhoni’s turn.
 
On a damp wicket with copious assistance for the faster bowlers, batting first was predictably going to be a nightmare at Chennai in the first One-Day International (ODI) against Pakistan. The need of the hour was to see off the new ball and then capitalise towards the end. But as India has shown in the past year or so in Test matches, none of the top-order batsmen showed any sort of application against the swinging ball.

It is high time the selectors consider replacing the under-performing openers. Does Virender Sehwag deserve a place in the ODI team? He has been in poor form in this format for sometime. Morever, he is a liability on the field. The team is short of quality bowlers, and every run saved on the field is a big bonus.

If India emerged from the Chennai game with some dignity, it was thanks largely to Dhoni, who played one of the finest innings in ODIs – this from a man who doesn’t have the technique to play on tracks conducive for fast bowling. Dhoni may not posses the best of techniques, but he has found a way to overcome that – and how! The fact that he is one of the few Indians who can play the pull shot helps.
 
With the new ODI rules making it mandatory to have five fielders inside the 30-yard circle, it is important that India pick their fifth bowler wisely. Dhoni has received a lot of flak for going with only four specialists bowlers. But the sad reality is that finding four good bowlers has been a major issue over the years for India. Other than Ravichandran Ashwin, there is no bowler in the top 30 ODI rankings. The fact that Ravindra Jadeja is the second-highest ranked bowler for India tells a story. A fully-fit Irfan Pathan might solve the problem. Irfan and Ashwin do seem to be good enough to bat at positions 7 and 8 respectively. More importantly, it will give Dhoni the chance to bat atleast one position higher.

With the kind of bowlers India have currently, it is really harsh to blame Dhoni for his defensive tactics. When Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath retired, we saw how Ricky Ponting struggled with his new bowlers. The fact that India did reasonably well during the period 2007-2011 is a testament of how well Dhoni handled his limited resources.
 
During the India-England Test series, the focus was on Tendulkar’s batting and Dhoni’s captaincy, due to which Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir got away despite their insipid performances. Sehwag has been underperforming in ODIs for sometime now, and it’s probably time to look ahead and give Ajinkya Rahane a chance
 
Over the years, Dhoni’s captaincy has been pretty much the same. It’s just that now he has to manage a side that has far too many players playing on the strength of past reputations than present form. In such turbulent times, it is necessary that the captain inspires the team by leading from the front. Dhoni did that in the last ODI, spriting quick singles and twos, despite drained out at the end in the energy-sapping heat of Chennai. It was exemplary effort in physical distress in the cause of the team and it was his Herculean effort which gave the bowlers some chance. Compare this to Gambhir, who was more interested in staying not out rather than farming the strike in the Mumbai Test against England. It may not have made any difference in the result, but it sends out the wrong message. Maybe the right way is to pack off some of the senior players aspiring for captaincy and field players with greater zeal and enthusiasm.

Meanwhile, spare a thought for Dhoni’s value to the team before throwing punches at him.

(Rohit Ramachandran Poduval is a classical leg-spinner, writer and software engineer)