Sydney: To reach the semi-final of the World Cup with seven out of seven victories and that too with a team that has just three former World Cuppers takes some doing.
Suresh Raina and MS Dhoni celebrate India’s win over Zimbabwe in Auckland recently. Pic/Getty Images
Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s defending champions lost by a big margin (95 runs) to Australia in the second World Cup semi-final at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG), but their margin of error throughout the tournament was minimal and that’s highly appreciable given his changing squad over the years right from when he lifted the World Cup in Mumbai four years ago till date.
It obviously wasn’t easy, and Dhoni recalled how he and some other batsmen had to sacrifice batting up the order to maintain the balance of a new team. Our top order has done so well, that at times I’ve been part of a series where I’ve not actually got to bat. I realised it is more difficult for newcomers to come and bat in the Indian team.
“If they start batting at No 5 or 6, they don’t get the maturity to succeed because more often than not in the sub-continent you hardly get a chance to bat, maybe in the last 10 overs. You need close to 70, 80 or 90 games to get some experience, so we started batting them up.
“(Suresh) Raina was a player we had to push back because he’s a special talent and can bat well at five and six. I pushed myself back so that Virat (Kohli), Rohit (Sharma) and Jinks (Ajinkya Rahane) could bat up the order because it doesn’t really suit them if we bat up and Ajinkya has to do the job off Suresh or myself batting at 6. It won’t really pay off.
“Overall, the health of the batting line-up is good if Jinks is batting at four, Raina five and me six. It was a conscious attempt to make sure that all the youngsters bat up the order,” explained Dhoni at the post-match press conference at the SCG.
The 33-year-old was all smiles at the conference desperately trying to hide the disappointment of the defeat in the penultimate round of the quadrennial event.
Lost to a superior Aus
He had probably resigned to the fact that his team was beaten all ends up by a much superior outfit on the day. That may have even reflected in his own dismissal too — he hardly attempted to dive or stretch into his crease while taking a single as Glenn Maxwell effected a direct hit from mid-wicket. Dhoni, with his head down, continued his light jog back to the pavilion. The skipper however has no reason to hang his head in disappointment. His defending champions have performed respectably in a tournament where not many had given them a chance after their dismal Test series show followed by the tri-series, both before the World Cup.
Rising to the occasion
Dhoni rightly picked out the positives from tournament. “In the tri-series, we had a lot of cricketing problems to deal with given the form of the players. We were here for close to over two months, and had another two months to go, so it was tough. The Tests before that also didn’t go our way, so it was important to have a good dressing room atmosphere, because that makes it slightly easier to come back into form and all the members, including the support staff, were just brilliant.
“Everybody rose to the occasion. The way our fast bowlers bowled throughout this tournament, how the spinners have done having learnt from their past experiences when we failed outside (the country). All this sums up our performance in the tournament,” said Dhoni, who top-scored in the team’s 233 with a run-a-ball 65 against Michael Clarke & Co.
Dhoni hoped his pacers would carry their form into their next engagements most of which will be at home. “It’s important for our fast bowlers to keep in mind whatever they have learnt on this tour because we won’t be playing outside the sub-continent till next year maybe.
“Hopefully, they’ll have something, some storage space,” he added.