‘Mission 2015’ for MS Dhoni


MS-dhoniJAIPUR: The 50-over World Cup might be more than 450 days from now but MS Dhoni is already thinking about it. The promotion of Suresh Raina in Pune, Dhoni revealed, is about preparing for that event in 2015. Every 50-over game from here on will have context.

First up for discussion is the No. 4 spot. Why is Raina, and not Yuvraj Singh, its current tenant? Because No. 4 is the only position which doesn’t have more than one suitable candidate.

And Dhoni has been a captain who likes multiple options. It doesn’t mean he is against specialists but that he likes a couple of specialists for each position. It’s sort of extending that conventional notion of specialist by populating it with more people.

“What we want right now is that Suresh should bat at number four for a considerable point of time,” Dhoni said.

“The only reason being is (to determine) who is the number four. The only one (right now) is Yuvraj Singh. If he is in good form and he goes into the World Cup without anything happening, he is the one who is going to bat at four. But if that doesn’t happen, at the start of the World Cup we can’t say, ‘Ok we don’t have a batsman at number four’. So I think we will have to give Raina some kind of an experience to bat at number four.”

It will mean that Raina will have to make some mental changes. “Raina has batted too long at number six and that’s why you see these kind if instinctive shots where you see a ball that is there to be hit and you go for it,” Dhoni said. “So I think that (if) he uses these opportunities well, we have two batsmen who have fare amount of exposure batting at that position.”

And here is why that need for having two batsmen is vital to him. “Because at all the other spots, we have got players who can replace each other at that spot but at number four apart from Yuvraj.”

In the Pune game, Raina had surprisingly walked ahead of Yuvraj with India on 66/2. Raina has batted only 14 times at this position. He has spent the most time at No. 5 (53 times) and at No. 6 (55). Of his 4344 ODI runs, more than 3000 have come in these two positions.

Contrast this with Yuvraj, who the stats reveal is the more versatile batsman. At number four, he has played 95 innings and averages a shade above 34 with five tons. At five, he has 88 matches with seven tons and an average of 41.29.

But as they say, stats hide much more than they reveal. Yuvraj is a much better player of the horizontal bat shots than Raina. This is something that Raina will have to still work on. Raina has just played eight matches in Australia and five in New Zealand and is yet to play a significant knock. He might get to chance to improve when India tour these countries next year.

Dhoni’s desire of giving Raina more chances at four, though, is consistent with his philosophy. He had promoted Rohit Sharma to the opening spot earlier this year, with the same motto of preparing someone for the position. Although in Sharma’s case, it was also about fitting him in the playing XI that has a packed middle order.

Some might see, the move to promote Raina as a bad news for Yuvraj. But this can also taken positively. It can say that Dhoni has enough confidence in Yuvraj to succeed in any position.

But in this Raina-Yuvraj debate, there is small sub-plot: What about Cheteshwar Pujara? Does he have a place in the team for 2015? Maybe, Dhoni has a plan for him too.


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