MS Dhoni feels Indian batting line-up is rigid at times

The Indian skipper elaborated "It is not easy to bat up the order, but you can play the big shots knowing that you have the cushion of three or four batsmen to follow. Batting at five or six or number seven is quite different so when you are looking to bring out the big hits, but at the same time be aware to avoid mistakes. These are the pressures batsmen have to go through down the order."

MS Dhoni came to bat at number four, ahead of Suresh Raina and Ajinkya Rahane, to take charge of the chase during the third ODI and also make teammates adapt to the difficulties of batting down the order.   -  PTI

M.S. Dhoni believes in shaking up things a bit, he challenges bowlers looking to curb him at the crease by creating space for improvised shots, puts fielders under pressure with sharp singles. Both aspects were evident during India’s run-chase against South Africa’s attack, which exposed chinks the home team batting on a slow track at the SCA stadium.

The Indian captain is also trying to make his players’ mindset more flexible when it comes to the batting order. Dhoni came to bat at number four, ahead of Suresh Raina and Ajinkya Rahane, to take charge of the chase during the third ODI and also make teammates adapt to the difficulties of batting down the order. SA punched holes in India’s response to win by 22 runs.

Raina fell early, Rahane lasted seven balls as India’s batting came apart under the pressure of catching up with the run rate. Virat Kohli ended up playing the lone hand, top-scoring with 77 off 99 balls at number three. “I felt the Indian batting line-up is rigid at times, about slot in the batting order. When you bat down the order you get to know what are the difficulties,” said Dhoni.

The Indian skipper elaborated “It is not easy to bat up the order, but you can play the big shots knowing that you have the cushion of three or four batsmen to follow. Batting at five or six or number seven is quite different so when you are looking to bring out the big hits, but at the same time be aware to avoid mistakes. These are the pressures batsmen have to go through down the order.”

Dhoni is assertive when it comes to his own preferred slot, but has always embraced batting responsibility. “I want to bat higher but also want people to contribute lower down the order. It will be good if I can bat a number of overs, create a partnership and can play the big shots later after playing enough balls. It also means that a few of the other batsmen will also have to adjust according to that.”

He is ok if batsmen moved out from their favoured slot don’t get runs. “They may or may not score runs, but they will get experience of batting down the order.” Raina, he feels, should focus on spending more time at the crease. Kohli at number four and and a capable hand at number seven are pieces of the puzzle he hopes will fall into place over two more matches in the five match ODI home series.

Dhoni elaborated: “We want Virat to bat at three but at some point we'd love to have a look at him at number four. Usually, a batsman coming in this position will get 30 overs to play and that is a good number of overs to score a hundred. It adds depth to our batting, not to forget that we are still looking for a hitter at number seven. Till that happens, the extra pressure has to be absorbed by the top six.”

India was within striking distance of South Africa’s 270 at the 40-over mark, 185-2 with openers Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma in the dressing room. Kohli and his captain were at the crease, 86 away from target and 10 overs remaining. Morne Morkel dealt the first blow by making Dhoni (47 off 61 balls) mistime a short ball into third man’s hands. The lanky pacer removed Kohli and Rahane to speed up his team’s victory.

Named Man of the Match, the SA pace ace said: “MS (Dhoni) is a fantastic finisher. I suppose when you live by the sword, you die by the sword. Kohli is a big hitter down the ground and I had to vary things a bit. I'm a rhythm bowler and need things to click to operate. I had been working hard to mix it up. We had a couple of game plans and it is important to execute.”

Spinners J.P. Duminy (8-0-46-1) and Imran Tahir (10-0-51-1) bowled with heart, undeterred by the sight of Indian stroke-makers with huge reputations. Kagiso Rabada (10-0-38-0) was difficult to get away on a track. SA opener Quinton de Kock (103 off 118 balls) played a huge role in setting up a score challenging enough for the Indian batting heavyweights to feel the strain catching up.