All eyes on Dhoni as India eye series lead in Rajkot

Dhoni’s irritation at these surreal expectations from people came through at Indore. The sword is always dangling above the head for cricketers with exceptional achievement.

MS Dhoni found support in former India coach Gary Kirsten, who feels the former deserves the space to chart out plans his own way.   -  THE HINDU

MS Dhoni has more admirers in the rival camp than among home fans. Gary Kirsten is one of those South Africans with an insight into the Indian skipper’s ability to deliver under pressure, like the 92 and four dismissals behind the wickets in the second one-dayer. With a batting average of 52.66 from 267 ODIs, the latter is of the view that Dhoni deserves the space to chart out plans his own way.

It needs an outsider like Kirsten (on a personal visit to India) to make us perceive Dhoni in a different light. The Indian skipper has set such high standards in batting and leadership that winning matches off his bat is par for the course among cricket watchers, anything less than a successful chase raises questions about his utility to the national squad. It is almost as if the quality in the opposition and match conditions, do not matter.

Dhoni’s irritation at these surreal expectations from people came through at Indore. The sword is always dangling above the head for cricketers with exceptional achievement. He is not allowed to take a step back and enjoy his game, in the hope that presence alone is enough to bring out the best in younger teammates, some of whom have captaincy experience in First-Class cricket or the Indian Premier League.

Talking about the impact of the captain’s batting, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar said: “Whenever the team needs runs from him, he has always responded by pulling us out of trouble.” Dhoni’s predicament is the absence of an experienced all-rounder who can score quickly chasing or setting targets in the company of lower-order is acutely felt. Harbhajan Singh is the most experienced hand lower down with ability to improvise and blessed with timing.

Dhoni spending time at the crease is beneficial for bowlers, feels Bhuvaneshwar Kumar. “For us bowlers, it is helpful when the skipper is getting runs, because time spend enables him familiar with the wicket. He is so experienced in this format that when he comes back to the dressing room, his insights give us an idea about how to the track will behave.” India defended 247 to win by 22 runs.

The bowlers teamed up with the skipper in small, but useful partnerships. Harbhajan (24), Bhuvaneshwar (14) and Axar Patel (13). “In Indore, bowlers also got some runs, facing 25-30 balls. It reflected in our bowling. The spinners got wickets at the start, the medium-pacers were successful towards the end. We support each other, for me it does not matter if wickets don’t fall to me, as long as batsmen get out.”

Bhuvaneshwar (three for 41) is relieved that the bowling unit came up to team expectations at Indore. Dhoni’s stumping off Hashim Amla in the seventh over set off a chain of events. Axar snared three batsmen, Harbhajan bagged two and medium-pacers pulled their weight with remaining five wickets among them. “Whenever we play as a unit, confidence is always there.”

Responding to a query about the captain’s display resulting in a calming effect on the dressing room atmosphere, Bhuvaneshwar replied: “It is normal, even when we don’t win. Every player is assigned a particular role and if he can execute his role we can expect a good game. In a five-match series, it is always difficult to make a comeback with two straight losses. The way we came back and won the last match was encouraging.”

The best exponent of swing in the home team line-up, he feels conditions have to be considered when analysing Indian bowling performances. “I have said this before. I need proper conditions to assist my swing. When there is no swing on offer, I try to exploit reverse swing and got those late wickets.”

Off-spinner R Ashwin trained with the squad at the Saurashtra Cricket Association stadium and tested his shoulder at the nets behind the venue. The track has a reputation as a bowlers’ nightmare and the searing heat will challenge new-ball bowlers in both camps. Harbhajan did his bit with the ball at Indore, runs from him will permit Dhoni to step out of self-denial mode seen so far and put the South African attack to the sword.