The template of seven batsmen and four bowlers has been India’s steady formula for chasing success and stability across all three formats of the game. And as the ‘Men in Blue’ warm-up for the fiery battles in the ICC World Twenty20 Super Eights, that rigid structure might well test M.S. Dhoni’s thought patterns in the days ahead.
In a press-conference last week, Dhoni was specifically asked about his ideal bowling unit and he replied: “Three seamers and one spinner.”
That yardstick will come under strain as Harbhajan Singh’s success against England and his exploits against the Australians in sub-continental conditions, makes him an automatic choice for Friday’s match against George Bailey’s men.
Dhoni’s selection quagmire will begin with that because R. Ashwin has done no harm to his credentials when Harbhajan was away. The skipper, who is comfortable with a lone spinner and a few part-timers wheeling away, has to take a call on whether he will play both the off-spinners and enfeeble his seam attack or get adventurous and go in with a 3-2 ratio of pace and spin while dropping the seventh batsman.
After thumping England by 90 runs with a bowling combination that had the power of five though at the beginning it looked fragile, Dhoni asked: “Who do you drop to play the seventh batsman?”
Immediately aware of the hard choice that he has to make if he has to drop a batsman, the skipper added: “The middle order has done well and the two openers can win matches on their own. It will be a difficult decision.”
The captain’s complexity of choices got even worse when he dealt with playing either Ashwin or Harbhajan. “I don’t know who will play, frankly. But I am quite happy with the problem of plenty. The selection will depend on the wicket. If it’s a fresh wicket and a hard-rolled wicket, the spinners may not be that effective. We don’t really know right now what will be our first XI,” he then said.
Going in with five bowlers may be an aggressive move as the part-timers – Yuvraj Singh (economy rate of 7.63 in Twenty20), Suresh Raina (9.21), Virender Sehwag (20.00), Rohit Sharma (9.42) and Virat Kohli (7.09) — cannot always be expected to contribute four overs of meagre runs and prise out the odd wicket.
At best they are the interlude for the team-management to indulge in silent prayers. If Dhoni goes in with five frontline bowlers then he has to break the bad news to one batsman and speculations revolve around Sehwag. The Harbhajan-show has indeed queered the pitch and the skipper said: “If we are playing one batsman short, he (Harbhajan) is someone who can slog down the order. It is a very good option for us.”
Zaheer’s poor show
Most importantly, Zaheer Khan has to reclaim his zest. India’s premier bowler has often been a pale shadow in Twenty20s with 14 wickets in as many games and that too at an economy rate of nearly eight. His economy rate of 8.93 in his last five T20 Internationals is a glitch that has to be addressed fast as India will play Australia, Pakistan and South Africa in the Super Eights.
India’s quest for the ideal balance also shows how critical a supreme all-rounder like Australia’s Shane Watson is to a team’s fortunes.
Keywords: Twenty20 World cup