I would be happy if MS Dhoni bats at No 4 in ODIs: Rohit Sharma
Rohit Sharma on MS Dhoni: "Personally, I always feel him batting at No. 4 will be ideal for the team." © AFP

India’s ODI vice-captain Rohit Sharma has said what nobody within the Indian camp has stated publicly: that MS Dhoni is best suited at the No 4 in the current setup, with the target being the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup.

Rohit’s comments came on Saturday following India’s 34-run loss to Australia in the first ODI at the SCG, where chasing a target of 289 the second-ranked team slipped to 4/3 and had one partnership to speak of. Rohit, who scored 133 off 129 balls, and Dhoni, who made 51 from 96, put on 137 for the second wicket in 28 overs before the latter was dismissed in what Virat Kohli termed the “turning point” of India’s chase.

Dhoni has batted at No 4 just 29 times in his glittering 333-match ODI career, the most recent before Saturday’s game being in two innings during the Asia Cup in September 2018. With growing criticism of his waning hitting and running skills in ODIs – he is 37 – after he finished 2018 with a strike-rate of 71.42, without a fifty in 13 innings, Dhoni been used at No 5 most often.

Ambati Rayudu was all but confirmed as India’s No 4 for the time being by Kohli last year, and later that month Rohit also endorsed the batsman’s skills at that role during the Asia Cup. Now, Rohit has stated his preference for seeing Dhoni bat a place higher.

“Personally, I always feel him batting at No. 4 will be ideal for the team,” Rohit told reporters after the match. “Rayudu has done really well now at No. 4, so it totally depends what the captain and coach thinks about it. Personally asking, yes, I would be happy if he [Dhoni] bats at No. 4.”

Dhoni’s strike-rate at the SCG was 53.12, coming in the tough situation of having to revive a chase that had lost three wickets in 3.5 overs. He hit three fours and a six.

Kohli felt that MS Dhoni's dismissal for 51 was a major turning point in India's loss.
Kohli felt that Dhoni’s dismissal for 51 was a major turning point in India’s loss. © AFP

“When he came out to bat today, we’d already lost three wickets, the guys were bowling pretty well and we had to respect that spell,” said Rohit. “We took a little bit of time, even myself, I took some time and didn’t score as quickly as I normally do. At that point losing another wicket the game would have been dead, so we wanted to make sure we take the game forward so we had to play dot balls. It’s a good sign for us that he [Dhoni] showed he can come out and bat whenever the team wants him to bat.”

India found themselves in a big hole 4/3 in the fourth over of their chase, which included the wickets of Shikhar Dhawan first ball and Kohli for 3, and despite a fine 133 from Rohit they ended up well short of Australia’s 288. When Doni was adjudged lbw to Jason Behrendorff, India did not have a review left to challenge the decision as Rayudu had used one when he was earlier given lbw.

“It’s always tricky, when to take it and when not. Rayudu thought the ball was drifting down leg and I thought the same. These things happen,” said Rohit. “You can’t always be right. But it is important to use the DRS well and we’ve spoken a lot about it. It’s such a split second decision. We might have a chat in Adelaide but what’s done is done.”

After a horrible start, Rohit and Dhoni revived India but with Dinesh Karthik and Ravindra Jadeja failing, the task became too hard. Rohit was the seventh wicket to fall in the 46th over, which left India needing 68 runs from 26 balls.

“I think it was a good learning but we’ve said that enough about learning now, it’s time to go an execute – take the pressure, absorb the pressure. International cricket is all about absorbing pressure, today was the perfect example, we were put under pressure and not able to absorb it,” said Rohit.

“We believe in Jadeja to play those cameo innings when required but the asking rate was way too much when he came to bat. For any batsman to just start playing shots is not that easy…so I don’t think it’s a worry, but it’s an eye-opener. Sometimes there will be times where No. 6, 7, 8 need to score those crucial runs but we totally believe in Jadeja to do that.”

The second ODI is in Adelaide on January 15.