The art of getting the batting order right

The art of getting the batting order right

Mahendra Singh Dhoni fired the imagination of the Indian cricket fan when he came up with an explosive 148 against Pakistan, batting at No 3, in Visakhapatnam in 2005. It’s a position where he averages the highest (82.75) and enjoys the best strike rate (99.69) but he batted there only in 16 matches.

His next best performance has come whenever he has walked in at No 4 — averaging 68.40 with a strike rate of 99.41. Again, only on two occasions did he bat in this spot. In order to blood youngsters who would be more comfortable batting up the order, when there are enough overs to bat without the pressure of accelerating, Dhoni pushed himself down to five or six, depending upon situations. He has even batted at seven in 28 matches.

Once he retired from Tests after the Melbourne game against Australia early this year, Dhoni thought he could enjoy his one-day cricket more and channelise his energies in a better way. One of his desires was to bat at No 4 from, position from where he could control the flow of the innings.

There are a few examples in Indian cricket where batsmen have been stubborn about their batting position, even if it meant compromising the balance of the team. Nobody would have grudged Dhoni coming in at No 4 but, as any proud leader of men would do, he has decided to stick to No 5 so that batsmen like Ajinkya Rahane can be accommodated in the playing 11.

“Once I left Test cricket, I thought, now I want to enjoy my ODI cricket,” Dhoni said after his match-winning knock in Indore. “I want to bat up the order, but when I come over here and see my team, I find it very difficult to just promote myself because you have the pressure of who is going to bat at No 5, 6 and 7. No. 7 is a very crucial position. Even if you see in today’s (second ODI) game Mishra was our best bowler in the last game but we had to drop him because we want that number 7 to bat,” Dhoni explained.

The current Indian team has many a talented batsman in its ranks. They are among finest in the business but it’s hard to imagine if any of them would have farmed the strike with the lower-order like Dhoni did on Wednesday.

“In situations when you lose early wickets, or if you lose wickets in succession in the middle overs, it just puts tremendous pressure on the batsmen batting in the middle,” he began. “If you want to hit a six, you want to be 110% sure that your hit has to go over the boundary.

“These are the kind of pressures that you tend to take and there are no easy ways out. It’s very easy to say on paper this is the combination to go with, but excuse me, cricket isn’t played that way! You need to have people who contribute.

“If you see stretches of teams who have done well, the lower-order has contributed a lot irrespective of the format. So that was the reason again I came back and still batting at No 5 or 6. I find it very difficult to put pressure on some of the youngsters in the team.

After playing so many ODIs if I can’t do it then there are not many who would do it. It’s something that I have to do. It’s easier said than done for me to say that I want to bat at No 4 but I will have to have look at the side and then decide the slot,” he elaborated.

It’s a selfless act and if anyone needed to witness the respect Dhoni has in the dressing room, one just had to see the entire Indian team waiting together outside the change room as he neared century. He didn’t get to his 10th ODI hundred but then records mean little to him.

“It doesn’t really matter if I get a hundred or not,” he said. “It’ll definitely help the stats. I have more 90s than 100s, and it’s not many batsmen who have that. I’ll proudly say I have more 90s than 100s.”

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