For the first two months of 2019, Indian cricket team was undergoing the ultimate high. They had won a bilateral series in Australia for the first time while they eliminated 10 years of pain to win in New Zealand. Having conquered the southern hemisphere, India headed back to home comforts. In the series against Australia, India were expected to continue the domination. They had not lost at home since 2015 and had not lost a series to Australia in their own backyard since 2009. In the first two ODIs at Hyderabad and Nagpur, it all went to plan as India secured wins. After the Nagpur win, things spectacularly unraveled. Virat Kohli’s century did not help India win in Ranchi, the dew in Mohali rendered his spinners helpless as Australia achieved the highest chase by a visiting team in ODIs while in Delhi, a determined and inspired unit helped Aaron Finch’s side win the five-match series 3-2 for the first time after trailing 0-2.
What changed in three games? What were the factors that undid some of the good work of the Indian cricket team following the success in Australia and New Zealand? One, there was the constant rotation at the problematic number four spot. Ambati Rayudu, who had success in New Zealand, managed just 33 runs in three games. KL Rahul came in at Mohali but he failed and was dropped for Delhi. Rishabh Pant was tried but he too failed. The team misread the conditions in both Ranchi and Mohali. In Ranchi, they expected dew but it did not come. In Mohali, they were told there would be no dew but there was excess. When Australia targeted Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal and rendered Kedar Jadhav expensive, India had no plan B to fall back on. Jasprit Bumrah was treated with respect but in this series, he could not achieve penetration in the death overs, which is traditionally his forte.
Despite these setbacks, Kohli was clear on what they wanted to do but he said a very important thing when it came to the World Cup. “As a side, combination wise, we are pretty sorted condition based. We just have to take better decisions in pressure situations to go far in the World Cup,” Kohli stated.
Significant dependance on Dhoni
The final statement of taking better decisions in pressure situations is an indicator on one thing. Kohli’s captaincy is majorly dependant on MS Dhoni. This was in evidence during the Nagpur ODI. India were facing the conundrum of which bowler will bowl the final over. Mohammed Shami, Bumrah had bowled out and they were left with Kedar Jadhav and Vijay Shankar. Kohli turned to Dhoni and Rohit Sharma and it was Dhoni who suggested that Vijay Shankar bowl the final over. The all-rounder responded and took two wickets to secure a win.
In the past, Dhoni’s captaincy has been given the ultimate praise. “With him being around, there is a sense of calmness in the group, which is very important. His presence around the group is a massive factor for us,” Rohit had said.
In Mohali, with Dhoni being rested and with Australia attacking, Kohli struggled to figure out the right field placings for Kuldeep and Chahal. When Dhoni was behind the stumps, he would chat with the bowlers and suggest them to bowl the type of delivery for which the field was set. At the PCA stadium, with India caught between attack and defence, Kohli’s captaincy came undone and Australia achieved the highest chase by a visiting side in ODIs.
When it came to captaincy style, Dhoni took risks and then fell back to allow things to happen. During his tenure, there was no chopping and changing. There was settlement. Under Kohli and Ravi Shastri, the horses for courses approach is yielding one potential negative side effect. Batsmen vying for the middle order are suffering a loss in confidence while the bowlers are getting undone by the ‘misreading’ of the conditions. With Dhoni, the conditions did not matter much as his captaincy style and the resources he had in his disposal meant he had to take the wait and watch approach.
Dhoni is the one who maneuvers the field. He is the one who tells the bowlers what to bowl and where. He is the one who eases the burden for Kohli to become a wonderful batsman. Make no mistake about it. Kohli needs Dhoni more than ever. The Indian team and his captaincy will never be the same once Dhoni exits the scene. Shastri hit the nail on the head when he said, “Nobody is good enough to criticise MS Dhoni. If you talk about him, do you even know anything about cricket? Dhoni is like Sachin Tendulkar, Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar. These guys come once in 30-40 years.” For World Cup success, the Australia series loss has proven to be an eye-opener for Kohli. The picture in front of him is that he and India need Dhoni more than ever.
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