Saturday, January 17, 2015

Wary Dhoni admits to issues of niggles for India

Nineteen days ago MS Dhoni sat in a chair in the Jim Stynes room in the Olympic Stand of the MCG, and spoke to the press about Hanuman's tail and that of a Doberman, about normal answers to questions and the spiced-up Australian answers, and about debutants who need to be handled with care and not judged based on one nervous performance. He didn't talk about what had really been on his mind. His Test retirement. Notice of the same was given to the world through a press release by the BCCI, 44 minutes after the press conference discussing the drawn Test, also Dhoni's last.
Nineteen days later Dhoni sat in the same chair, this time a day before the start of the tri-series, the official road to World Cup that India are hoping to defend. Dhoni still wouldn't talk about the retirement. He said it was his personal decision, and his right to keep the reasons to himself. He said he wanted to focus on what was ahead: the tri-series and the World Cup.
Even there Dhoni wouldn't disclose who the openers were going to be in India's first ODI of the triangular series, against Australia on Sunday. There has been an on-going shuffle between Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma at the top of the innings ever since the two took turns to fill the openings left by Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir. Rohit did well at home, scored a double-century, struggled in South Africa and New Zealand, and got injured in England. Rahane stepped in, and did a commendable job.
Then when Rohit got fit, you would have thought India would have made a decision. But Shikhar Dhawan was rested, giving India some more time before they made a decision. If anything, Rohit compounded the uncertainty by rattling off another double-hundred, against Sri Lanka. Now India have a choice to make. At least it is not as unpleasant as the last time India were here for a triangular, when Gambhir, Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar couldn't all be accommodated into one XI because that made it six slow legs, and they had to be rotated, which brought around some discomfort.
Dhoni did concede, though, that the niggles going around in the team needed management and that India needed to stay prepared should they not heal in time. Two of his key players - Ravindra Jadeja and Ishant Sharma - will not be available for selection for Sunday. Jadeja has been out with a shoulder impingement. Ishant missed the Sydney Test, after three back-to-back Tests, with a sore left knee. They are both part of the World Cup squad, and India do not want to stretch them too early. The same would go with Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who missed three Tests with a sore ankle.
"Since 2007 the word experiment has been banned from India cricket," Dhoni said with a nod to the Greg Chappell days. "What we do is try out different things. We will in this tournament also. I think - we have four games at least and five if we make the final - what's most important for us is of course to get the combination right but at the same time what we won't do in this tournament is push people who have a few niggles that can transform into major injuries. We will give them that extra time if needed. Because what's important for all of us is to be at least 80 to 90% fit going into the games. We will manage the workload accordingly."
This is where the presence of Mohit Sharma in the squad for the triangular becomes interesting. Should one of the side-lined first-choice bowlers not make it to the World Cup, Mohit is being tipped to be the next best. Does that mean India give him some game time too? "That's the major thinking behind them being here," Dhoni said when asked if Mohit and Dhawan Kulkarni would be seen as prospective World Cup players if the rehab for Jadeja or Ishant doesn't go well. "At the same time, we have to play with the 15 who are part of the World Cup squad. If we feel it's important we can give some extra time to a few of the individuals. Then they will also be considered for selection. But as of now, we will look to pick from the 15. But you can say for the tri-series as of now we are a 17-member squad."
A glaring weakness in India's World Cup squad is the lack of a proper seam-bowling allrounder. Stuart Binny is here, but he is more a bits-and-pieces player. He can't lock in a place in the side either as a batsman or a bowler. Dhoni knows it, but is not complaining. "Depending on a few venues where we will be playing, it is important that we have a seaming allrounder in the side," he said. "We are playing a few games in Perth and a few in New Zealand where there's not much purchase for the spinners. And that's one area where Stuey may come in.
"Irrespective of all the debate, the best seaming allrounder of India has been picked in the side. So we are hoping that he will stand up and take the responsibility. He is exciting you know. He can play aggressive shots if needed. And he's a good bowler. If he gives me six to eight overs, that's enough. I can use the other part-timers to bowl those two-three overs that are needed."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo


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