“It’s not for me. If I had to bat up, I could easily bat at four for this team. But what is important is for these youngsters to bat at that number because this is an opportunity for them. The only reason I am here is to understand them and at the same time guide them as to what has to be done,” said MS Dhoni, after India’s two-run loss in the opening Twenty20 International (T20I) against Zimbabwe.
On the first day of the tour when Zimbabwe offered a fight, India caved in. A number of members of the young squad, despite all their T20 expertise from the Indian Premier League (IPL), threw away starts with errors in decision-making, allowing Zimbabwe to stay in the hunt till the very end. It was down to Dhoni who couldn’t get four off the last ball, but there was more to India’s defeat than that last over.
“Let’s talk about IPL, it doesn’t really matter. You can play your big shots. There’s no pressure of result. You say ‘okay, in 14 games if you play five or six innings, you will take the team through.’ Over here it is slightly different. This is where you have to personally tell them as to ‘this could have been done at that point of time.’ And also that’s how you learn. It’s not that you have to commit a mistake to learn,” Dhoni said in the press conference on Saturday (June 18).
Despite Zimbabwe’s steep total, India never really looked out of depth in chase. Yet, regular wickets, most of them against the run of play, meant the visitors were slowly digging their own grave. Reflecting on the batting performance, Dhoni admitted that lack of application cost India the game. “It wasn’t the right occasion for us to lose a wicket. Not only in the last few overs, also right from the start – the way we lost wickets, the kind of shots that were played, were they needed at that point of time?”
A well-set Manish Pandey and a street-smart Dhoni ensured they minimised the risks and stayed toe-to-toe with the asking rate, thereby slowly nudging the pressure onto the opposition. With 29 to get from 18 balls and these batsmen in the middle, the writing was on the wall for Zimbabwe. A fourth successive defeat was just three overs away. However, Pandey’s decision to go aerial against Taurai Muzarabani kick-started the dramatic turnaround. The hosts rejoiced but they knew they still weren’t over the line. Axar Patel’s ability to arrive and straight away middle his bat swings made things tough for Zimbabwe. The lean left-hander narrowed the equation down to 21 off 12 balls and 8 off 6. Surely, it was India’s game from there.
Then arrived Axar’s moment of madness. Dhoni turned the strike over, taking a single off the first ball, and perhaps expected Axar to do the same. The Gujarat allrounder however, looked for glory with another heave. This time it went to the fielder. Six off three balls was still gettable, but Rishi Dhawan failed to nudge around for a single. When he finally did, Dhoni was on strike with four to get from the last ball, which he couldn’t achieve.
“I felt the last ball was brilliant but that’s what my job is, so maybe I am the person to finish the job. But at the same time, we kept losing wickets and what happens at that stage is that you’re losing wickets and you’re giving one dot ball and at the same time, the set batsman is not getting strike. I felt the batsmen will have to take the responsibility. The reason being, few of them, they were set, they were batting well. When you’re chasing targets, you need to take it to the end and then look to play the shots. That was something that was lacking in this game,” the skipper further bemoaned.
While the result gives Zimbabwe the early advantage in the series, it was the manner in which India lost that seem to have hurt Dhoni. On a tour like this, every run scored or every wicket taken is to be viewed as a stepping stone for bigger things to come, but there was an important lesson on the ‘learning curve’ that Dhoni wished to impart.
“I feel, though we lost the game – it’s disappointing – it’s still a learning curve for the youngsters, provided they are learning out of it. You have to take it in a serious manner because whenever you will represent the country, whenever they get a chance to be part of the proper Indian team for a consistent period of time, they will feel the pressure. That will be the time when a game like this or a tour like this will really help them ease out that pressure.”
For all the talk of the contest on the tour being a complete mismatch, the two-run defeat in the first T20I points fingers towards a sense of complacency from the younger lot, that perhaps got used to straightforward victories in the 50-over format. An introspective Dhoni quashed the theory about India being superior based on reputation and skill, and spelt out the reason behind the defeat.
“It doesn’t matter which team you’re playing. It’s a levelling experience. What I mean by that is you need to give a lot of respect to cricket and when you go in to bat or bowl in the field, irrespective of the opposition, you have to be at your best. You can’t play with your reputation or playing eleven that looks good on paper. What’s important is how well you play on the field, how well you’re executing. It’s the cricket that wins you the games, not the teams. I felt we were way off today, both in the bowling and the batting department,” he opined.