Spotlight on MS Dhoni's poor batting form after West Indies beat India

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Dhoni's batting form has come under increasing scrutiny.

India’s 43-defeat to the West Indies in the third ODI at Pune on Saturday once again served up a reminder of MS Dhoni’s waning influence with the bat in hand.

Despite skipper Virat Kohli becoming the first India batsman to slam three consecutive ODI tons, the hosts were unable to overcome a spirited West Indies showing as the visitors stormed back to level the five-match series at 1-1.

Having been set a target of 284 to win, India were within sights of victory all innings long until Kohli was dismissed in the 42nd over by Marlon Samuels.

It was a situation which was tailor-made for the Dhoni of yesteryear to come in and do the finishing job. The veteran wicketkeeper batsman had walked in to bat with India at 172-4 in the chase following the dismissal of Rishabh Pant, a man very much earmarked to be Dhoni’s successor in the limited-overs set up.

With Kohli going strong at the other end, the stage was set for Dhoni to do what he does best, or did, until a point of time. Many a times in the past the 37-year-old has rescued India from worse situations with his ability to soak up the pressure and then finish the job without a fuss.

It was not to be on Saturday with Dhoni’s innings coming to a tame end after he edged a Jason Holder delivery into the hands of wicketkeeper Shai Hope.

His dismissal for seven means Dhoni’s ODI record in 2018 now reads 252 runs in 12 innings, at an average of just over 25 along with a strike-rate of 68.10.

The right-hander has now failed to register a single half-century in the format since his 65 against Sri Lanka at Dharamshala in December 2017.

Dhoni has not scored a single ODI fifty in 2018.

Dhoni has not scored a single ODI fifty in 2018.

His poor form means India are effectively playing him as a specialist wicketkeeper. There is no denying that Dhoni’s glove work behind the stumps, especially against the spinners, remains top notch. His vocal guidance to the spinners is exemplary, with the stalwart even being described at times as India’s spin captain.

However, with Dhoni in the side, India lack balance big time as shown by Saturday’s loss. Without an all-rounder in the side like Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja and even Kedar Jadhav, the side is effectively playing five specialist batsmen and a wicketkeeper.

With Bhuvneshwar Kumar coming in to bat at number seven as in the third ODI, India’s tail become a lengthy one. The inadequacies of that line-up was exposed on Saturday with the game going well beyond India once Kohli became the seventh batsman to be dismissed.

India’s imbalanced line-up is in stark contrast to No1 ranked England, who have filled up their side with all-rounders all the way down to even the number 10 batting position.

The side’s middle-order and lower-order woes have been well known for some time now with the problem only exacerbated by Dhoni’s weak batting. As such, the pressure on the excellent top-order to fire becomes even greater. What happens when the top-order gets going has already been shown in India’s 2017 ICC Champions Trophy final defeat at the hands of arch-rivals Pakistan and to a certain extent on Saturday.

Dhoni's glove work behind the stumps remains excellent.

Dhoni’s glove work behind the stumps remains excellent.

With Dhoni in the side, it becomes even more imperative for India to play an all-rounder to bring some semblance of balance and that problem was even alluded to by Kohli following the Pune defeat.

“Look when Hardik Pandya and Kedar (Jadhav) both play, we get the extra option. When someone like Hardik is not playing, who gives you both bowling and batting option, it is difficult to get the balance,” the India skipper had stated after the defeat.

The India selectors have finally taken the hard step by dropping Dhoni from the T20 outfit. By the look of things, Dhoni will keep his ODI place until the 2019 World Cup at least and that means India will have to live with the handicap when it comes to the team’s balance.

By not taking the tough decision when it comes to Dhoni’s ODI form, India have tied their own hands going into the World Cup and will now have to pray and hope that the veteran can summon his old powers back and rediscover his touch in the few months that remain before the event.

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