In a break from tradition, Indian captain gives out details of team composition well before match against Australia
Mahendra Singh Dhoni generally keeps his cards close to his chest, so it was somewhat of a surprise to hear him all but announce that India would play five specialist bowlers in its Super Eights Group 2 opener against Australia on Friday night.
India had an optional session on Thursday morning at the R Premadasa Stadium and some of the key players were missing, but Dhoni allayed any fitness concerns, saying, “We most probably will play with five bowlers, but what combination will depend on conditions and the wicket, which will be a fresh one.”
If India does play five bowlers, it will mean leaving out a top batsman. “Definitely it’s one of the toughest decisions I’ve taken so far, but we have to see what fits the combination the best,” said Dhoni. “We will have to wait and watch. It will have to be a good decision, ultimately that’s what matters. The competition will get tougher from this stage onwards. Each game’s importance will multiply now. It will be good for the spectators.”
Dhoni spoke of the evolving role of opening batsmen in Twenty20 cricket. “Most of the openers around the world, they are all aggressive,” he said. “We look to get off to good starts and I feel it’s important to get off to a good start with the new ball because you can put pressure on the opposition bowlers. If that happens, then more often than not, they look to be defensive, which gives you the upper hand.
“In the subcontinent it’s even more important, because depending upon where you are playing, initially the ball comes on nicely to the bat. It’s between the 8th and the 12th overs that the game changes. We have seen quite a few wickets which really slow down and strokeplay becomes a bit tough. It’s important that the top four take advantage of the ball coming on to the bat. If you look at our openers, they are among the best, they have got some fabulous partnerships, they run well between the wickets, and I think they complement each other well.”
Pat Cummins, the Australian pace bowler, had warned on Tuesday that India should be ready for some ‘chin music’. “For the last five years, whenever we have had press conferences, we say some new things but they have been talking the same thing, there’s nothing new from their side to say,” said Dhoni, with a hint of irritation. “We are concentrating on the areas where we have to work on, and we will keep doing that.”
India has appeared more at ease against the short ball in this tournament than in the past, perhaps also a reflection of the nature of the playing surfaces. “The side hasn’t changed for quite some time now,” Dhoni pointed out. “Most of the players who are part of the side, they have played a decent amount of One-Day International, T20 and Test cricket which means they have got more exposure and they know what to do.
“But the short ball is as much of a problem for us as it is for anyone else. We have seen every batsmen get out to the short ball. It all depends on how quick your bowlers are. If someone is bowling at 140-145 km/hr, he will definitely look to bowl short-pitched deliveries.”
Dhoni was asked if India had specific plans for David Warner and Shane Watson, Australia’s dangerous opening combine which is also the most successful opening pair in T20I cricket. “They are one of the best because they have done consistently well,” he replied. “Both of them play aggressive cricket and look to score as many runs as possible in the first six overs.
“But we won’t cross our boundary; whatever is our strength, we would like bowl in those areas. If you are looking to play with five bowlers, then definitely there is a bit of a variety up your sleeve to use in the first six overs.”