MS Dhoni during a practice session ahead of the fourth ODI in Ranchi. (PTI photo)
India and Australia arrive at Ranchi for...
Straying into Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s ranch is fraught with imminent peril. Figuratively, Australia grasped this in Mohali, if they hadn’t already a February ago in Chennai, wherein he launched a remorseless onslaught to achieve his maiden double hundred. At the recent instance—the circumstance made-to-measure for his resurrection-first-combustion-last approach—the Aussies were yet again left dazed at the furious swirl of his seven-iron wrists.
They got through the fury, but the brunt might still remain.
Now, they are literally treading his territory, Ranchi, hoping finally, and desperately, to stranglehold the homeboy. They wouldn’t want another lesson of his manipulative efficiency. The expected full-house, though, would crave for precisely this. And Dhoni has an acute sense of occasion and drama, which manifested in his first international match at this venue, when he strode in at number five and struck the winning runs against England.
More than the skipper, whose only noteworthy contribution was a diving catch to eject Joe Root, the Indian bowlers would less likely forget that match. It was a rare occasion where they doled out a concerted effort to wrap up the tourists for a meager 155. And it was almost an identical bowling line-up—smattered to shreds by Aussie batsmen--that wreaked the havoc.
But to expect an encore from Indian bowlers is less realistic, given their generous flash this series, and to an extent the nature of the surfaces. There returns have been grotesque, and their mere body language reeks of a perceptible lack of belief. If Ishant Sharma, their self-anointed conductor of the pace pack, has been blasé, their titular spinner Ravichandran Ashwin had been bland. Devoid of aiding conditions and support, Bhuvneshwar Kumar looks half the menace he had been in England and the Caribbean. R Vinay Kumar has again reiterated his shortcomings at this level. To detail their fallacies is too taxing a task.
Ironically, part-timer, a label that risks being a misnomer, Ravindra Jadeja has been India’s most effective bowler. Still, he is not yet a strike bowler capable of running through a side, especially on shirtfronts—another of such like is in the offing here.
However, agonizingly for Dhoni, there aren’t too many alternatives either. Medium pacers Jaydev Unadkat and Mohammad Shami are too uncut to be unleashed onto the Australian batsmen, who have prospered on the placidity of the surfaces. Leggie Amit Mishra was resourceful in his comeback series in Zimbabwe, but whether Dhoni trusts him has to be seen. Mishra’s could be a tricky choice, given his intemperate tendencies. He can be either too good, that is when his drift and loop falls in place, or be too scratchy, that is when lavishes long-hops and full-tosses.
The solace is that, their Aussie counterparts hadn’t been any inspirational either. Apart from Mitchell Johnson, whose ability to extract the best from the given conditions accrues from experience, they have sparked only in bursts. But after their heist in Mohali, they would be convinced they have the momentum to spoil Dhoni’s homecoming. And for the Indian skipper to celebrate his home reunion, he needs a bit of reciprocation from his ailing bowlers, too.