India needs to find a permanent solution for M S Dhoni, figure out where he should bat, determine what his approach should be, going into the crucial semi-final, says Harish Kotian.
Despite cantering into the semi-final with a game in hand, India's recent performances in the World Cup have left unanswered questions.
Virat Kohli and his men know they have just their last league game against Sri Lanka to get their house in order ahead of the semi-final, which could be a tough outing against either England or New Zealand.
The Indian batting, especially the middle order, is a major concern. Things have kept going downhill since the team kicked off its campaign with an easy victory over South Africa exactly a month ago, on June 5.
The No 4 position in the batting order has become a problem for the Indian think-tank, with several batsmen tried out, but none yielding the desired results.
India first entrusted K L Rahul with the No 4 job as they entered the World Cup. Rahul got just one innings in that position, scoring 26 against South Africa, before he was switched back to the opening slot following Shikhar Dhawan's injury.
Hardik Pandya took over the position for a couple of games -- against Australia and Pakistan. With India looking for some quick runs, he scored 48 from 27 balls against Australia and 26 from 19 balls against Pakistan.
Meanwhile, the original No 4 choice, Vijay Shankar, struggled, scoring a sedate 29 from 42 balls against Afghanistan and 14 from 19 balls against the West Indies, before a reported toe injury ruled him out of the tournament.
India then tried out Rishabh Pant, who replaced Dhawan in the squad, at No 4 for the games against England and Bangladesh. The youngster did reasonably well in his first World Cup with scores of 32 and 48.
The bigger problem for India is the batsmen that come after No 4.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni's below-par showing with the bat has attracted much comment and criticism. Although he has got runs -- 223 runs in 7 innings -- Dhoni's strike rate of 93.30 has come into question.
Once the greatest finisher in the game, Dhoni, who turns 38 on Sunday, July 7, has struggled to get going against the spinners, especially with rotating the strike in the middle overs. He has also failed to get the boundaries in the death overs.
Dhoni in the 2019 World Cup:
|Vs||Venue||Runs||Balls||S/R||Dot Balls||Ones||Twos||Threes||Fours||Sixes||Dot %|
Statistics: Rajneesh Gupta
During his painstaking 28 from 52 balls against Afghanistan, Dhoni struggled against the Afghan spinners, despite spending nearly 20 overs at the wicket.
He had as many as 63 percent dot balls in that innings -- making it 33 dot balls in all. His knock included just 16 singles and three fours.
Sachin Tendulkar, speaking to the India Today television channel, felt 'slightly disappointed, it could have been much better. I was not happy with the partnership between Kedar (Jadhav) and Dhoni, it was very slow.'
'We batted against 34 overs of spin bowling and scored 119 runs. This was one area where we didn't look comfortable at all. There was no positive intent,' Tendulkar said.
When Dhoni and Jadhav gave up the run chase against England, with 71 needed from 31 balls, former captain Sourav Ganguly was at a loss for words.
'I can't explain these singles... You can't be chasing 338 and still have 5 wickets in the end. It's about mindset and the way you look at the game. The message had to be clear: No matter where it comes and no matter where the ball lands you have to find the boundary,' Ganguly declared from the commentary box.
Against Bangladesh, Dhoni struggled again before he hit a couple of late boundaries which helped him salvage his strike rate, ending up with 35 from 33 balls. He batted from the 39th over till the final over of the innings.
Dhoni's dot ball percentage was 42 -- including 14 dots out of 35 balls faced.
The biggest challenge before Captain Virat Kohli and Head Coach Ravi Shastri ahead of the semi-final will be how best to utilise Dhoni.
Kohli and Shastri have signalled that they don't want the momentum to die down in the middle overs. They sent in Pant at No 4 in India's games against England and Bangladesh. Pandya too was promoted ahead of Dhoni when India looked for quick runs in the end overs.
If Dhoni can't produce the fireworks nor rotate the strike in the middle overs, then it would be a headache for the team management where they should accommodate the veteran. Dhoni's wicket-keeping skills are, of course, still unmatched.
Dhoni is one of the greatest players in limited-overs cricket, But age appears to be catching up with India's most successful captain in the shorter formats of the game.
The question to drop Dhoni has still not arisen, but everyone wants to see the legend making significant contributions with the bat.
Opposing teams have figured out his batting and get their pacers to bowl full outside the off-stump.
This handicaps Dhoni's power game as he mainly relies on hitting through the leg side.
India's opponents also deploy spinners when Dhoni comes in to bat. They know the great man struggles these days against spin, unable to rotate the strike or get the big hits away.
Saturday's game against Sri Lanka will be India's final chance to get its combination right before next week's all-important semi-final.
It will be paramount to find a permanent solution for Dhoni, figure out where he should bat and determine what his approach should be.
What do you think India should do with Dhoni?
Should he asked to bat at No 4 and build the innings?
Or should he sent in during the death overs and asked to swing his bat?
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