India’s captain MS Dhoni has insisted that his side’s seamers and spinners tried everything to contain the charge of South Africa’s batsmen at the Wankhede stadium, but conceded their plans did not work on a true batting wicket and against an opposition that accelerated swiftly.
South Africa amassed a total of 438 for 4, and India eventually crashed to a 214-run loss in the series decider. Dhoni said that his team, with the limitations of the attack and the nature of the pitch, had struggled to put the opposition on the back foot. No Indian bowler went at less than six runs an over as Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers notched up centuries. India were also not helped by several dropped catches.
“If you see the wicket, it was a true batting wicket. There was no turn on offer for the spinners,” Dhoni said. “Our fast bowlers, yes, they can swing the ball but when it’s flat they are not the ones who can push the batsmen on to the backfoot. Even if we have bowlers who bowl quick, they don’t get the same amount of bounce from the same areas, as we don’t hit the deck as hard.
“Our strength is entirely different and if you see this wicket, all our bowlers as a unit, you very rarely see everybody going for runs – your fast bowler has gone for runs, your spinners have gone for runs. That was the reason, once the partnership happened and once they looked to accelerate, it was very difficult for us to stop boundaries.
“Almost all the strategies were used – from the fast bowlers, to yorkers, to cramping the batsmen, to using the short-pitched deliveries. The same was with the spinners – you tried cramping them up, bowling wide. But there are days when it doesn’t work. Also, when the wicket is so true and you have that kind of a partnership, it becomes very difficult to stop the opposition. It has happened in cricket, it keeps happening. What happens is that if you face a similar sceniaro the next time you have to make sure that you don’t let the opposition score so many runs. Something that you can look to chase is something that’s very important to stop the opposition at and taking a few catches may help.”
Acknowledging that there will still gaps that needed to be filled and that the team was far from settled, particularly in the allrounder’s slot, Dhoni said that it was important for India to try different combinations with the long-term picture of the 2017 Champions Trophy and the 2019 World Cup in mind. The long-term goal was one of the reasons why he admitted that he wanted his batsmen to be exposed to different match situations. Dhoni said that while a series loss was difficult, it could give pointers to the side on how they could solve the problem of specialist slots in the side.
“If you look at the longer picture, we have to do all these things. I know when it comes to Indian cricket, not a lot of people are open to that idea, but if you only look at a particular series, in the long run, it will definitely harm us more. You have to look at the Champions Trophy and then the World Cup, where it will be played. As I say, we can’t always play with three spinners, but at the same time you have to sort out your batting order. You want to have strength in the middle and lower middle order and at the same time have bowlers who can get you wickets at any point of time in the game.
“To be consistent, you have to have a settled team and to a lot of extent, our team doesn’t look to be that settled yet. We have to look at the venue, the kind of wicket that is provided and accordingly make changes. We have made changes in the batting order to see what gives more strength to our batting order, what looks like a good composition when we are chasing. You have to study these things. I know India is more about results but at the same time you will not get results if you are not looking into the process.
“It’s a tough situation but we are looking for the solution, we have to try a few other things because if you are doing the same thing, you will get the same result and we’ll keep talking about the fact that we don’t have a seaming allrounder. We have tried Stuart Binny, people have criticised that also but if you talk of allrounders in India, your best seaming allrounder is Stuart Binny, your two best spinning allrounders are Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel. Whether you like it or don’t like it, these are the best we have so we have to make the most out of them.”
When asked why the India attack was struggling so much since the World Cup, Dhoni felt that the bowlers India had tried in the last few years had not been able to step up and graduate to a higher level on the international circuit.
Our best seaming allrounder is Stuart Binny, and our two best spinning allrounders are Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel. Whether you like it or don’t like it, these are the best we have, so we have to make the most out of them
“If you see any other Test or ODI-playing nation, the fast bowlers come and in one or two years they graduate to the next level – they become the strike bowlers or they learn what their strength is and bowl according to that. To some extent, we have not been able to do that and also, once you put in a lot of time and effort in a particular individual and if it doesn’t come up good, then a vacuum gets created where you have to look for the individuals.
“We tried going for fast bowlers – bowlers who bowl quick – but we realised that they are giving the opposition more runs and we were better off playing with people who are more into their line and length. So you have to see what the best solution is as of now. Ideally, Mohit [Sharma] should be your third seamer but you have to mix and match – who is your best death bowler, who can bowl well in the middle overs, who is a good new-ball bowler – so we have to go through a few things. Definitely we have seen that we have tried a lot of different fast bowlers who have not done really well for us but at the same time when they go back and play in the different formats, they are ones who have done well for their IPL franchises or in the Duleep/Deodhar Trophies.
“It’s a transition. Sometimes it takes time because I still feel there is a bit of difference between the top strike bowlers in first-class cricket and the top strike bowlers at international level.”
Rachna Shetty is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.