The Indian Mahendra Singh Dhoni has baffled a few with his persistent backing of leg-spinner Piyush Chawla despite the young man leaking runs by the dozen in the games against England and Ireland and not being so economical either against the Netherlands. He has also stood up in defence of off-spinner Harbhajan Singh who has two wickets from four games.
Undoubtedly, he would endear himself to everyone if he offers such backing to each of his players. But as the leader of the group Dhoni may have chosen to use the stick with some like the two spinners who have got to bowl in the last three games and the carrot with others like S Sreesanth. And perhaps hunger as a bait for R Ashwin.
He says he is not bothered by the criticism but in the same breath reveals how criticism gets to him. “Frankly, I am not bothered by what others say. When I select a team, I try to look at it as how honest I am. Piyush needed a game more than Ashwin because of the kind of applause he has received from you people,” he told the media on the eve of the game against South Africa.
At the end of the match against Netherlands, I waited to see if any of my colleagues would ask a direct question about Harbhajan Singh’s inability to breach the defences of batsmen from Ireland and the Netherlands. Truth to tell, there was one question about Yuvraj Singh doing a better job than the spinners and Dhoni’s response was fascinating.
“Whatever happens, you cannot drop the spinners and say we will play extra batsmen. I thought over a period of time, our spinners have bowled well,” he said. Interestingly, he did not stop there but went on to talk about how it was important for the bowling unit to hunt in packs rather than put the onus on one bowler.
“The opposition is happy to just block Harbhajan Singh out and make it tough for him to get wickets. We cannot have silly point and short leg that are needed for him. I don’t want to have a forward short-leg in the group stage because I don’t want a player to get injured,” he said. “If the batsmen have a go at him, he can get wickets. If he is bowling well, they are going after Yuvraj and that is probably why he is getting wickets. You have hunt in packs and that is what is important.”
I wanted to ask a more direct question on Harbhajan Singh and when my turn came, I asked Dhoni if he was happy with the intensity and aggression that the off-spinner showed on the field in the World Cup. The captain preferred to ignore the bit about intensity and chose to speak about Harbhajan Singh’s aggression – or the lack of it.
“I think he reacts to aggressive cricket in a different way. If the opposition is not playing aggressive cricket, maybe he also lays down and doesn’t play that type of aggressive cricket (expected of him,” Dhoni said. “It won’t be the case as soon as you are playing some of the bigger sides who will look to go after him. I think as the tournament heats up, you will see a different Harbhajan Singh. May be a strong side or better opposition, you will see the best of Harbhajan Singh coming up.”
Whether we agree with his argument or not, we must grant it to the Indian captain that he has backed the two spinners so well. It is now up to them – for their own sake, and for the sake of their skipper and the Indian team itself – to deliver the goods rather than be seen to be using World Cup matches to fine-tune their skills.
As it heads into its contest with a familiar opposition, South Africa, we must also hope that the Indian batting unit will be able to give more authentic performances. The West Indies in the last league game and then the knockout await the team in the business end of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011. It is time to show what we believe are the team’s true colours.