Many questions, few answers

Contradictory noises from the Indian camp brought forth the disquiet — revealing enough evidence to indicate a problem with the split captaincy policy. An immediate post-mortem is necessary to assess the damage and then take rectifying measures. By Y. B. Sarangi.

The unprecedented 2-1 One-Day series loss to Bangladesh has posed some serious questions about Team India’s approach to the game and has also brought forward the news of unrest in its dressing room.

The collective collapse of the formidable Indian batting line-up against a lower-ranked Bangladesh was indeed a major shock. And Test skipper Virat Kohli’s comments about the team environment during a television interview, which many have interpreted as a veiled attack on One-Day International captain M. S. Dhoni’s leadership, signals a mini-crisis. A feisty Dhoni, who captained India to two World Cup triumphs, expressed his willingness to give up his leadership role and continue playing just as an ordinary cricketer.

R. Ashwin and Suresh Raina — MSD’s Chennai Super Kings team-mates — have come out in support of the ODI skipper. Dhoni has stood by the two in testing times, giving the duo ample opportunity to cement their place in the national setup.

The war of words between Kohli and Dhoni’s childhood mentors has only made matters worse. The team, which was at the top of its game during the World Cup, reaching the semifinals, suddenly looks disjointed with signs of fissures.

The lack of application of the pedigreed Indian batsmen, especially while facing Bangladesh’s debutant left-arm seamer Mustafizur Rahman, helped the host to win the first two outings, and thereby pocket the series. The dropping of the dependable Ajinkya Rahane for the last two games and Dhoni’s public assessment of the Mumbai batter’s inability to rotate strike on slow subcontinent wickets did little to alleviate the mind-boggling pressure that had engulfed the team.

Contradictory noises from the camp brought forth the disquiet — revealing enough evidence to indicate a problem with the split captaincy policy.

Is this crisis a result of Dhoni’s sliding grip over the team and the resultant insecurity? Or is it originating from Kohli’s rising ambitions? Or, perhaps, it has its roots in the politicking of some other behind-the-scene individuals.

Currently, there are no concrete answers. But an immediate post-mortem is necessary to assess the damage and then take rectifying measures. Despite these problems, the utter disintegration of the team in the first two ODIs is still baffling.

Credit goes to the 19-year-old pacer Mustafizur, who exhibited amazing precision and consistency to trouble the Indian batsmen, picking up 11 wickets in those two games. He bowled with the control of a seasoned practitioner, almost always dropping the ball at the right spot, extracting perfect bounce and movement.

His variations, particularly the well-disguised cutter, proved fatal for many Indian batsmen. Mustafizur claimed the wickets of Rohit Sharma and Raina thrice in the series, foxing the two established internationals with his guile. The other Bangladeshi bowlers — seamers Masrafe Mortaza, Rubel Hossain, Taskin Ahmed and the spinning duo of Shakib Al-Hasan and Nasir Hossain — rallied around the youngster, with the fielders maintaining discipline to choke the Indian batting line-up.

Chasing the Tigers’ 307 in the first ODI, India fell short by 79 runs. The visiting team, batting first in the second match, was bundled out for 200. Apart from the batting failure, the lack of bite in the Indian bowling attack was also an area of concern. It failed to provide early breakthroughs and struggled to keep things tight in the subsequent phases of the Bangladesh innings.

Off-spinner Ashwin was the lone bright spot in the Indian attack, but his solitary effort was not enough to check the host’s momentum. India’s turnaround in the third ODI, which restored some pride, brought some late cheers.

Finally, the plan was clear and the implementation was better. There was an effort to see-off Mustafizur and minimise his impact. The batsmen had set their priorities right and forged handy partnerships to take India’s total past the 300-run mark. In bowling too, the team was proactive and was rewarded with some early breakthroughs, with Dhawal Kulkarni particularly excelling, alongside the spinners.

The team showed a single-minded approach for a win, a quality sadly missing at the first two outings. The reversal was an apt lesson for the No. 2 side and India should guard itself against such complacencies in the future.

Dhoni, who was quick to appreciate the role of coach Duncan Fletcher, whose contract had ended, advised the BCCI to exercise patience in its quest to find the Zimbabwean’s successor. Team director Ravi Shastri, who enjoys a great working relationship with Kohli, is the favourite to take over the role on a long-term basis.

The new coach as well as the BCCI hierarchy will need to take effective steps to stop intra-team friction and charter a long-term plan to firmly position India as a premier international side.