Dhoni capable of donning Laxman's role
Sehwag will open, asserts skipper
The recent retirement of VVS Laxman has not only robbed the Indian batting line-up of immeasurable style quotient but also a batsman who was adept in marshaling the lower-order around him.
Counting the rescue missions Laxman mounted over the years will not be an easy task, and just to refresh the memory, his alliance with Pragyan Ojha and Ishant Sharma at Mohali against Australia and that glorious 96 made mainly in the company of Zaheer Khan against South Africa at Durban will figure prominently in that list.
Now, with Laxman no longer available, who will don the shepherd’s role and score valuable runs in the company of tailenders?
In allowing Cheteshwar Pujara to bat freely in the first Test against New Zealand at Hyderabad around him, skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni might just have answered that call. Yes, Dhoni doesn’t have Laxman’s elegance or technique, but a few others can respond to a pressure situation with as much calmness as the Jharkhand man.
New Zealand might not have the sufficient firepower to test the Indian batsmen on their terrain, but they still can pose a few tricky questions if they show their customary spunk, conspicuous by its absence at Hyderabad. Conditions have been overcast in Bangalore for the last few days, and the pitch at the M Chinnaswamy stadium, venue of the second Test, has shades of green, enough to excite the Kiwi pacers.
In that context, if the Indian openers, Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag, fail to get off the blocks, it will add that much more pressure to a new-look middle order, consisting Sachin Tendulkar, Pujara, Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina.
And if Tendulkar too has an off day like he had at Hyderabad, the entire pressure will directly be on Dhoni to guide the young ones, a task particularly important against teams like England and Australia, the next set of visitors, also owners of better bowling units, to the Indian subcontinent.
Dhoni, will now have to prepare himself to play a two-pronged role. Coming in at number seven, Dhoni has to play either a support role to one of the middle-order batsmen, like he did along with Pujara at Hyderabad, or bat in the company of late order batsmen to add precious runs.
Both the jobs need immense amount of patience, and Dhoni acknowledged his changing role in the batting line-up in the post Dravid-Laxman era. “We’ve just played one game after Laxman retired so we need a good amount of time for every individual to become the part of the side.
“But yes, I think somebody needs to bat with the tail-enders. If the last three or four batsmen can contribute, it can be very frustrating for the opponents. At the same time you are adding to the total, which the most crucial part. That will be my role. Me and the batsman coming at number six, will have to bat with the tail-enders and get as many runs as possible,” Dhoni said.
In this case, batsman coming in at number six is Suresh Raina, and since the Uttar Pradesh batsman is still finding his feat in Test cricket, the job of guiding the lower-order batsmen is firmly placed on Dhoni.
There might be a school of thought favouring the relegation of Sehwag to the middle-order to impart more experience, and the Delhiite himself has expressed his keenness for a shift to one of the vacant slots there.
But Dhoni firmly ruled out any such move, making it clear that the responsibility rests unequivocally with him. It’s indeed a brave move by the skipper because the job he’s about to handle is fraught with perils and chance of glory is miniscule.
However, Dhoni is quite fortunate that he still has the massive experience of Tendulkar at his disposal, so that he doesn’t need to do the job alone. The wicketkeeper batsman acknowledged the value of Tendulkar’s presence.
“I think he (Sachin) is perfectly happy and the good thing is he has always been under pressure. No matter what the combination is, he has always been under pressure. He may score 45 or 50 and still people would think he has not scored runs. So, he has always been under pressure, and he knows how to deal with it, a learning experience for others,” Dhoni said.
But firefighting, a Laxman specialty not so long ago, will now be entrusted on Dhoni’s broad shoulders. It will be quite fascinating to see how he responds to the task.
Teams (from): India: M S Dhoni (capt, wk), Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Cheteshwar Pujara, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, R Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, Umesh Yadav, Pragyan Ojha, Ajinkya Rahane, S Badrinath, Piyush Chawla, Ishant Sharma.
New Zealand: Ross Taylor (capt), Daniel Flynn, Martin Guptill, Brendon McCullum, Bradley-John Watling, Kane Williamson, Kruger van Wyk (wk), Neil Wagner, James Franklin, Chris Martin, Trent Boult, Doug Bracewell, Tarun Nethula, Tim Southee, Jeetan Patel.
Umpires: Ian Gould, Steve Davies; Third Umpire: Sudheer Asnani; Match referee: Chris Broad.
Hours of play: 0930-1130 hours, 1210-1410 hours and 1430-end of play.