Dhoni’s biggest challenge

As Team India begin their campaign in this World Cup, the only thing that they can bank on is hope; the hope that they will get their act together first up in the big event.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni will perhaps face his biggest challenge in the 2015 ICC World Cup. Of course, any series in any format at the international level will throw up challenges, but the Indian captain will concede that the current edition of the World Cup will be the mother of all challenges he has had to face. His CV as captain is highly impressive no doubt, but if one were to look at the circumstances of his earlier campaigns in the World Cup, be it the T20 format or the one-day version, the pressure in Australia will be at its zenith.

The T20 triumph in South Africa catapulted Dhoni to dizzying heights, but at that point in time, there were hardly any expectations of Team India winning, the main reason being that he was handling a young side with all senior cricketers deciding to take a break. In 2011, Dhoni had the advantage of playing at home, where the conditions favoured Team India and, most importantly, he had the luxury of getting the kind of surfaces that suited his side. I hasten to add that playing at home can subject any side to enormous pressure, but nonetheless, the odds are in favour of the home team.

I am not trying to dilute the hard work and the outstanding performances that enabled Team India to win those two World titles. However, for a side seeking to retain the title with hardly any noteworthy performance in the preceding year abroad, it can be a big test. The lack of success apart, fitness issues and bowlers showing hardly any imagination have added to Dhoni’s woes. With Ishant Sharma declared unfit, Dhoni is forced to revisit his bowling combination even though Mohit Sharma (Ishant Sharma’s replacement) is a force to reckon with in the shorter formats.

The biggest challenge for Dhoni is picking the ideal combination to do the job. The warm-up game against Australia did not provide any positives as far as bowling is concerned. It does appear that Binny will figure in the scheme of things, but Dhoni would do well to reflect on the shortcomings that Team India faced in the 2007 World Cup before he makes his final decision. He needs to go in for specialists who have to shoulder the responsibility of executing their core function come what may. In 2007, Team India went in with heavy batting and banked on part-timers to roll their arms over, which proved to be a disaster.

Dhoni needs to pick five bowlers who would give him 85 percent quality overs, failing which the batsmen will find it too burdensome to compensate. Dhoni has gone with his gut feeling for most part of his career. This has succeeded in India, but the conditions in Australia are poles apart from what they are in the sub-continent. The Indian skipper is looking at playing two spinners, but he needs to be spot on while making his choices. The final combination is not the only challenge for the Indian captain because the kind of approach Team India adopts will be critical as well. The main strength of Team India is batting, but the form or lack of it as a unit will be a concern for the skipper.

As Team India begin their campaign in this World Cup, the only thing that they can bank on is hope; the hope that they will get their act together first up in the big event. The biggest encouraging factor is that they are in a relatively easier group and their first game is against Pakistan, who have always lost to India in the World Cup. No matter how composed Dhoni has been all these years, he will be tested severely in the next few weeks.