Wicketkeeper-batsman was unlucky as the ball that trapped him in front, had pitched outside the line of the leg stump but the former skipper consumed too many deliveries during a 137-run stand with Rohit Sharma
Hardik Pandya’s sudden suspension on disciplinary grounds has badly affected the balance of the batting order, indeed someone was needed to accelerate in the late ’40s. Rohit tried his hands but that wasn’t enough as it causes team’s 34-run defeat in the opening match.
Dhoni’s 51 off 96 balls and failing to rotate the strike is a major concern for Captain Virat & coach Ravi Shastri. India strongly needs a finisher someone like Hardik or Yusuf. With Dhoni being slotted at No. 5 even though vice-captain Rohit wants the veteran to bat a notch higher, cues from India’s training session made it clear that the team is unlikely to tinker with the batting order.
India’s batting order did come under the spotlight at the Sydney Cricket Ground. The top three (Rohit, Shikhar Dhawan, and Kohli) have enjoyed a fairly consistent run since 2016. But it was a rare occasion when Dhoni had to come out in the fourth over of the innings.
Dhoni averages 52.95 while batting at number four, which is higher than his current career-average of 50.11 over 333 games. It is even higher than his favored batting positions of number five (50.70) and six (46.33) but batting lower down the order, strike-rate becomes paramount.
Yet, Dhoni’s career strike-rate at number four is 94.21 is higher than his overall career strike-rate of 87.60, or at number five (86.08) and number six (83.23).
When India last played ODIs in Australia in January 2016, Dhoni batted at number four in two matches but only scored 18 runs.
In fact, since that series, Dhoni has batted at number four in only eight ODIs, with the last instance in the 2018 Asia Cup. He averages 24.75 in this interim, with a strike-rate of 77.34 and a highest of 80 against New Zealand in October 2016.
This presents a quandary, which the Indian team management might not be in a mood to sort out at present.
Rayudu did well enough in the Asia Cup and in the home series against West Indies, and both batsmen merit a longer run in their respective positions to help settle this batting line-up in the run-up to the English summer.
The all-rounder’s slot – still clueless
No pre-match shortlist has been announced for this second ODI, and all-rounder Vijay Shankar will be joining soon. The biggest challenge for him would be the team’s middle-order batting, particularly if the top order collapses like it did today.
In challenging times, the No 4, 5 and 6 batsmen must take responsibility, hold the fort and take the fight to the opposition. But that did not happen today. Ambati Rayudu, MS Dhoni and Dinesh Karthik, the three men who formed the middle-order in this game were not up to the challenge.
Dhoni was the exception. He walked in when the team was three wickets down for a miserable four runs and grimly battled along with opener Rohit Sharma to keep the rampaging Aussies at bay.
The former Indian captain defended stoutly, ran hard and opened up every now and then to blast the bowlers. His 137-run fourth wicket stand with Rohit Sharma (133 from 129) not only took the match deep but gave India a real chance to make a charge. But the lack of power hitters was reflective in the chase.
While Dhoni with his 96-ball 51, seemed combative enough to show that he could play a pivotal role in the middle order, Rayudu and Karthik were disappointing.
With limited resources India have to find a solution in do or die match, either Dhoni will be asked to bat on 4 so that Dinesh Kartik could free his hands on the will or Vijay Shankar take the charge of finisher.