Dhoni reinforces my prediction on four-specialist bowlers strategy: SOS Yuvraj beckons

Just a few days back, I had endorsed the strategy of playing just four specialist bowlers in a bid to bolster Indian cricket’s original strength, i.e. batting. Today, after yet another embarrassing defeat against England in the Tri-series, which kept India winless and knocked them out of the tournament, skipper MS Dhoni echoed these very sentiments at the post-match press conference. (ESPNCricinfo: Dhoni hints at four-bowler strategy for World Cup). The idea, while irrelevant as far as the Tri-series tournament is concerned, may still fit into the category of ‘better late than never’ in the context of the all important World Cup, and comes with its own share of challenges.

Dhoni has almost quoted me by appointing Stuart Binny as the unofficial replacement for the struggling Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and with Ishant Sharma’s knee troubles, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav appear to be frontline choices for partnering Binny. I would pick Akshar Patel over Ravindra Jadeja as the single specialist spinner in the team, but knowing Dhoni’s fascination for Sir, we’ll just have to wait and watch how that selection pans out.

Which brings me back to the point I highlighted in my previous post – we can talk all we want about strengthening our batting, but the 15-man squad has very little additional batting firepower. Only if ALL the batsmen are played do we have seven specialist batsmen, with Binny and Akshar at Nos. 8 and 9 respectively. We are definitely a batsman short in the 15, but there might yet be a backdoor solution to this epoch problem.

With several of our bowlers dropping like nine-pins due to injury and related woes, it presents an opportunity to set right the mistake of taking our batting for granted while picking the 15-man probables. With a four-specialist bowler strategy more or less confirmed, the excess bowling baggage we are carrying can be neatly trimmed, citing injury concerns, and a batsman/all-rounder brought on board in lieu. 

With the need of beefing up our part-timer bowling strength at an all-time high, the buck, in my opinion, once again stops at Yuvraj Singh, whose big-match temperament and recent form with bat and ball make him a potentially indispensable asset in the middle order, who can also ‘pie-chuck’ a significant portion of the fifth-bowler duties quite effectively. Since time immemorial (or at least since I became cricket aware), the Indian batting line-up has been strong, at least on paper (even when we crumbled in reality). That sacrosanct awareness has been disturbed during this Tri-series, and the single addition of the lanky Punjabi south-paw will restore the on-paper aspect to a large extent, irrespective of how he performs.

If miraculously included, Yuvraj should replace Ambati Rayudu in the XI, and not the current top-of-mind villain , Shikhar Dhawan. Rayudu has displayed tremendous heart in attempting his best while he has been regularly fed to the wolves (Read, pushed into an unfamiliar batting position in seamer-friendly conditions against marauding pacers, to protect a certain jewel in our crown), but his best is simply not good enough, at this level, in these conditions. Even if he came off on a couple of occasions, he is the least likely to strike fear into the hearts of the opposition, something India desperately need to after the recent embarrassments.

For all the solidity Ajinkya Rahane has displayed at the top, I would still prefer him in the middle order, with Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma opening. Dhawan’s 30-odd at Perth today raises hopes that he is coming into some semblance of form at the right time, and he is the closest we have to Virendar Sehwag at the top, so he stays, for me. Virat Kohli must come in at No.3, irrespective of when a wicket falls; ‘protecting’ our best batsman is sending out quite a wrong message, and Kohli must get back to where he made most of his runs. Yuvraj, Rahane and Suresh Raina at 4, 5 and 6 form a rock-solid middle-order, the kind that could send a shiver down the spine of bowlers manning the middle overs. Dhoni at 7, Binny at 8  and one of our spinners at 9, makes it quite a formidable batting line-up, on the famous paper of course. To conclude by quoting Derozio, our ‘day of glory past’ is just an SOS away..but is anyone dialing?