MS Dhoni was forced to come up with yet more excuses for India’s continued poor form following an emphatic 214-run defeat to South Africa in the deciding one-day international in Mumbai last Sunday (25).
The under-fire skipper blamed everything from the conditions to the lack of a settled line-up as some of the reasons for conceding a record 438 runs to centurions Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers.
The famed Indian batting line-up then failed to deliver again in reply, with South Africa skittling out the hosts for 224 in 36 overs to seal a 3-2 series win, just weeks after a 2-0 success in the Twenty20 arena.
Dhoni has now failed to lead his side to any one-day series victory this year.
“To be consistent, you have to have a settled team, and to an extent, our team doesn’t look to be that settled yet. We have to look at the venue and the kind of wicket that is provided, and accordingly make changes,” he said.
“We have made changes in the batting order to see what gives us more strength, what looks like a good composition when we are chasing. You have to study these things. I know India is more about results but you will not get results if you are not looking into the process.”
Du Plessis led the way for South Africa, scoring 133 off 115 balls, and was ably assisted by big-hitting opener De Kock, who added 109 from 87 deliveries. The duo put on 154 for the second wicket before De Villiers arrived at the crease.
World cricket’s star man cracked a sensational 119 off 61 balls, including three fours and 11 maximums. Du Plessis’ and De Villiers’ 164 run stand only ended when the latter had to retire hurt, but it didn’t slow down the 438-4 total.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar went for 106 runs off his 10 overs, while Mohit Sharma (84 from seven), Amit Mishra (78 from 10), Harbhajan Singh (70 off 10), and Axar Patel (65 from 8) were also hammered around the ground. Several dropped catches also hampered India’s cause.
“If you see the wicket, it was a true batting wicket. There was no turn on offer for the spinners,” Dhoni claimed. “Our fast bowlers, yes, they can swing the ball, but when it’s flat they are not the ones who can push the batsmen onto the back foot.
“Even if we have bowlers who bowl quick, they don’t get the same amount of bounce as we don’t hit the deck as hard. Our strength is entirely different. You very rarely see both your fast bowlers and spinners going for runs. It was very difficult for us to stop boundaries.”
When asked if he could have done anything tactical to halt the alarming run rate, Dhoni refused to take any responsibility, saying he tried everything he could. “Almost all strategies were used – from the fast bowlers, yorkers and short-pitched deliveries,” he maintained.
“The same was with the spinners – we tried cramping them up, bowling wide. But there are days when it doesn’t work. Next time you have to make sure that you don’t let the opposition score so many runs. Taking a few catches helps (too).”
Next on his agenda of excuses was the lack of all-rounders in the squad. The top order seems to have its problems as well though; apart from Shikhar Dhawan (60) and Ajinkya Rahane (87), Virat Kohli (7), Suresh Raina (12) and Dhoni himself (27) all failed to contribute.
Patel (5) and Harbhajan (0), all-rounders as such, were both dismissed early on, exposing the tail. Seamers Kasigo Radaba (4-41) and Dale Steyn (3-38) showed the Indians the way to go; spin king Imran Tahir (2-50) also chipped in.
Dhoni explained: “It’s a tough situation but we are looking for the solution. If you are doing the same things, you’ll get the same results, and we’ll keep talking about we don’t have a seaming all-rounder.
“We have tried Stuart Binny; people have criticised that also. In India, your best seaming all-rounder is Stuart Binny and your two best spinning all-rounders are Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel. Whether you like it or not, we have to make the most out of them.”
Finally, last in a long firing line, the fast bowing situation was addressed. “If you see any other nation, the fast bowlers come for one or two years and graduate to the next level – they become the strike bowlers, learn what their strength is and bowl according to that,” he explained.
“To some extent, we have not been able to do that. We tried going for bowlers who bowl quick – but we realised they are giving the opposition more runs and were better off playing with people who are more into their line and length.
“So you have to see what the best solution is. Ideally, Mohit [Sharma] should be your third seamer but you have to mix and match – who is your best death bowler? Who can bowl well in the middle overs? Who is a good new-ball bowler?
“We have to go through a few things. It’s a transition. Sometimes it takes time because I still feel there is a bit of difference between the top strike bowlers in first-class cricket and the top strike bowlers at international level.”