CHENNAI: Referring to deficiencies after Tuesday’s capitulation against England, the India captain expressed concern over the inability to build partnerships. He also spoke about the ideal approach and the importance of rotating strike. MS Dhoni didn’t specify where it starts. This doesn’t require a microscope. The heart of India’s problems abroad is usually at the top, where Shikhar Dhawan’s shortcomings away from home are getting clearer everyday.
The opener did well in the Champions Trophy in England and got runs there last year after a thoroughly unconvincing Test series. Failure against the new ball has accompanied him more often in all the places this new team has played and alarmingly, there’s been predictability in his dismissals. With two games to go before the World Cup, opening disorder and the effect it might have on the middle has suddenly become a headache, apart from those in bowling.
“Shikhar’s problem is he doesn’t move his feet. Because of this tendency to play from the crease, he’s neither in position to play off the back foot nor the front foot. In the sub-continent, you can manage with this technique, but with the ball moving and bouncing, he’s in trouble. Plus, he didn’t do well in the Tests, which means he’s short on confidence. Opening is a big worry for India, at a critical time,” said Chetan Chauhan. The former opener with Test experience in Australia had recommended Ajinkya Rahane in place of Dhawan after Sunday’s loss against Australia.
Despite an average of 74 in England, Dhawan managed under 21 in New Zealand last year and in two matches in Australia so far, has lasted nine balls. He was beaten by movement on both occasions and the manner of negotiating the deliveries survived didn’t suggest he was doing a competent job. With rules prohibiting replacements barring injury, Rahane appears the only alternative. In that case, instead of trying out men picked, Dhoni will still be looking for the right combination. Member of Kris Srikkanth’s committee which selected the 2011 World Cup squad, Raja Venkat backed Dhawan to continue. “He has technical shortcomings, but overcoming them with determination is a feature of his game, unlike some of our other batsmen. He knows how to score and has been picked on the basis of what he’s done in ODIs. During the time players were under observation before team selection, he was getting runs. Dhawan needs confidence and under these circumstances, I’ll give him a full run,” said the former East Zone batsman.
Instead of stirring the middle-order afresh — where the sequence has been disrupted by pushing Virat Kohli down to No 4 — Venkat sees sense in persisting with Rahane in the position the vice-captain has scored most of his runs. “If Dhawan doesn’t click it will lead to an emergency. In that case, Rahane can be an option. Before that, he’s our best bet at No 3. He can hold fort, rotate strike and play big shots if need be, somewhat like Rahul Dravid in his heyday. If Rahane and one of the openers bat for about 20 overs, the middle-order won’t come under pressure. That’s where our strength is.”
Given the condition of pitches and the state of India’s fast bowling, there’s no doubt this ‘core’ people often refer to is India’s biggest hope in what’s turning out to be a wobbly countdown. Rather than aggression, protection of the middle from the vagaries of nature might provide food for thought as the Cup comes closer.