What do you do after a debilitating loss that has been played out in public? If you are a good leader, you front up and take responsibility for it, while shielding those who made mistakes. After a heartbreaking loss against Australia in the fourth One-Day International on Wednesday (January 20), MS Dhoni did what any good leader would. He took the blame, he insisted the responsibility lay on his shoulders, he had kind words for those who failed.
India had come close to victory in Melbourne in the third ODI, but Glenn Maxwell and generous bowling and fielding thwarted them. At the Manuka Oval in Canberra, they were not just close to victory, they were running away with the match. Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan had both hit centuries, the Australian bowlers didn’t know where to bowl to them, and what began as a 349-run target chase was brought to less than a run a ball.
But Dhawan’s wicket saw India slide from 277 for 1 to 323 all out. Dhawan fell to John Hastings, and in the same over, Dhoni fell for a rare duck. Even though that left India 277 for 3, needing 72 off the final 72 balls, Dhoni said his wicket had been the turning point. “I think it was my wicket. If you see specifically, that’s what my role is in the team – to make sure we finish off the game well from that kind of position,” he said. “So I would say my wicket really was the turning point. At that point of time, we lost quite a few, but I think it was my wicket because according to the role and responsibility everybody has, that specifically is my role.”
Dhoni’s fall handed Australia a sniff, it is true, but after that, Kohli was out, and both Gurkeerat Singh Mann and Rishi Dhawan – playing in their second ODI each – got out trying to go for the big shot, rather than putting their heads down. Ajinkya Rahane, who had to get four stitches in his right hand, took local anaesthesia and came out to bat, but expecting him to play a major role in the chase would have been too much.
While Dhoni agreed that Rahane’s injury had affected things, he stressed on how it wasn’t right to blame younger players who were just starting out.
“What you have to realise is that’s what pressure does to you,” he explained. “A few of them haven’t played a lot of international cricket. At times it seems when you are batting in the middle that playing the big shot is the right thing to do, but, slowly, with more games under your belt, you realise that is the time you have to carry on and build some kind of partnership. Once you get used to the pace and bounce of the wicket, then you can play the big shot. Hopefully, they’ll learn from this. Maybe it’s the first time in their careers that they were under this kind of pressure.”
It was put to Dhoni that he was allowed to fail, and it was bound to happen that he couldn’t finish the job every single time for India. And in that scenario, it was reasonable to expect the younger players to step up. But the Indian captain stuck to his stand.
“You are putting forward a theory, but another theory is that someone might not have got a chance to bat for the first five games of a series and then gets one in the sixth. It’s even more difficult in such situations to go out and make a 50 or a 70 or a 100 the first time,” he said. “You have to consider all these things.
“Everyone’s talent is different. You have to groom players. I have said this before, we are very used to getting complete cricketers. We don’t want to groom anyone. ‘If this guy’s not good, let’s get rid of him and if that guy is not good, get rid of him too.’ When these players go out and return to the team, the pressure on them will be greater. There is not as much scrutiny anywhere as there is in India. It’s not easy for you to go in, you need 40 runs, and you swing your bat and hit fours and sixes. Whenever you play a big shot there’s a chance that you may get out. You have to take that into account.”
As India’s chase wound down, Ravindra Jadeja, who remained not out on 24, found himself batting with Umesh Yadav for the ninth wicket. Yadav simply tried to swing and connect with every delivery, where the more sensible option would have been to look for a single and turn the strike over to the more pedigreed batsman. There was no mid-pitch conference either, and Yadav’s eventual score of 2 off 11 balls indicated how often he had swung and missed, even being dropped off a skier before being caught.
“I think the main batsman has to communicate, especially with the lower order, because it’s not easy out there,” agreed Dhoni when asked about Jadeja, in the only time he allowed a hint of a critical assessment, though even that was qualified. “[Jadeja is] among the most experienced when it comes to the lower order. It’s not only about your batting. At the end of the day you also have to tell the people batting with you what the bowler may be doing at that point of time and what the batsman should be looking at. A bit more communication will definitely help, but I don’t think he is somebody who really speaks a lot, so that’s also something we have to take into account.”
At the end of it, you were left feeling that if the Indian batsmen in the middle had shown some of the application their captain did in defence, he might not have had to come out after the match to answer tough questions on their behalf.