For a fleeting moment, when he waded into his own fast-medium bowlers after the defeat in the fourth one-day international against New Zealand in Hamilton on Tuesday, India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni appeared to have forgotten that the fast bowlers on tour lack experience.
It is ironic that a man who believes that experience is crucial when it comes to leading the Indian team at the ICC Cricket World Cup does not think it necessary for his faster bowlers to have such benefits. As a leader, it does not become of him to have slipped in a line that suggests the bowlers do not use their brains.
Dhoni may have spoken the truth when he said a captain needs to have the experience of leading the team in close to a 100 games before leading the side at the World Cup. But when that truth emanates from him rather than the selectors, it does not send the best signals. There really was no need for him to appoint himself skipper.
To get back to his criticism of the fast-medium bowlers, Dhoni should not be seen leading the lynch-mob against them. Of course, they have been disappointing but if batting has been India’s strength, why has it made such a hash of things? For instance, quite apart from little criticism of shot selection, not much has been said about the number of dot balls that the Indian batsmen played.
In four games so far on the current tour, Indian batsmen have played 583 dot balls. The only game in which New Zealand batsmen played more dot balls was the second but India showed urgency since there were only 42 overs during the chase. The fourth match, with India taking first strike, was the worst with 165 dot balls. If India reduced this by 10 per cent, they would have had at least extra 16 runs to bowl with.
After all, there are not too many Indian fastmedium bowlers who make the opposition quake in their boots. Of course, those who get the new cricket ball to swing – and reverse it when it is old – are treated with respect but there are no Indian bowlers who evoke anything even remotely like fear.
Having come under much pressure to leave Suresh Raina out of the XI, Dhoni did not have the choice of employing his handy off-spin bowling in Hamilton but it was disappointing that he did not use Rohit Sharma to plug that gap. It was made worse by his preferring to bowl Ambati Rayudu, him with the not-so-clean action.
This was symptomatic of the tactical mistakes that India made, starting with the selectors making a poor decision not to have sent a third opener on the tour. And when the tour selectors chose to drop Shikhar Dhawan, they had to juggle the whole batting order.
The consequences were disastrous, to say the least. In a do-or-die game, India’s best batsman Virat Kohli was sacrificed as opener simply because there was no option, what with Ajinkya Rahane having ruled himself out of that role some moons ago by insisting that he was primarily a middle-order batsman.
Fans of Indian cricket can only hope Dhoni will get back to being calm and composed in the face of adversity rather than continue to apportion blame in public. The more he comes across a being critical of the resources at his disposal, the tougher it will get for him to forge a combination that can compete in the ICC Cricket World Cup next year.