Bangar comes to Dhoni’s defence amidst intent talk

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“I don’t think so [there was a lack of intent]. They [England] used the dimensions really well and created difficult angles for our batters to hit.” – Bangar © AFP

India batting coach Sanjay Bangar has quashed the criticism headed in the direction of wicketkeeper-batsman MS Dhoni after India’s 31-run defeat to England in Edgbaston on Sunday (June 30). India’s chase of 338 was carried forward by Virat Kohli (66 off 76) and Rohit Sharma (102 off 109), but once they fell, the burden of the chase was on a relatively unexposed middle-order.

Rishabh Pant – coming into the game for the injured Vijay Shankar – and Hardik Pandya were up for the task, as they added 28 runs in 18 balls up until Rishabh’s dismissal in the 40th over. Pandya and MS Dhoni then could only manage 41 off the next 34 balls before the former perished.

When Kedar Jadhav joined Dhoni in the middle, India needed 71 off the last 31 balls – the sort of equation that gets polished off in T20 tournaments like the IPL. But the new batting pair however, just couldn’t get going against England’s smart death bowling that involved a lot of variations – cross-seam deliveries, cutters and slow bouncers – to take advantage of the pitch that slowed down since the first innings.

Dhoni and Jadhav merely rotated strike, and even saw off dot balls, as the asking rate continued to climb steeply. The failure to even attempt big shots was a throwback to last year’s ODI between India and England at Lord’s where once again Dhoni was at the helm of a chase that India didn’t go hard at.

This ploy drew criticism from all quarters – including the commentary box where Sourav Ganguly questioned the lack of intent towards the end – but Bangar strongly defended Dhoni, after Virat Kohli too had suggested it was one of those days when his predecessor was trying to play his shots but they just weren’t coming off.

Bangar also suggested India kept one eye on the Net Run Rate, as they are yet to seal their semifinal qualification. Should two contenders for the knockouts spot be tied on points and the number of wins, then NRR will become the deciding factor.

“I don’t think so [there was a lack of intent], because if you look at the way they bowled towards the end, they used the dimensions really well and created difficult angles for our batters to hit.

“In those large boundaries and with the type of balls they were bowling – slower bouncers, a lot of into the wicket deliveries, slower balls, I just felt maybe last one or two overs, the difference between runs required and balls left were a bit too much. Had we tried bigger shots earlier, we might have ended a few runs short. It also helps the Net Run Rate a bit with the extra runs.”

Addressing the pointed criticism towards Dhoni’s approach at the death, Bangar pointed out that the former captain has had a satisfactory World Cup thus far and that the team management is content with his show of intent.

“Except for one odd innings, he [Dhoni] has done the role always. Five out of seven games he has done the job for the team. If you see the earlier games, against South Africa he stitched together a partnership of 70 with Rohit. After that what was required of him against Australia he did that.

“In Manchester on a difficult track (against WI) he got a vital 56 for us. Here also he was striking the ball really well. I’m surprised that this question continues to come up every now and then. He’s doing the job for the team and overall we’re very happy with the intent he’s batting with,” Bangar said.

One of India’s problems in recent times has been their middle-order’s approach in the 50-over format, and it has something to do with the way India’s tail shapes up.

The contrast and the gulf between the two sides as far as the tail is concerned was there for all to see as England had Liam Plunkett, Jofra Archer, Adil Rashid and Mark Wood as No. 8, 9, 10 and 11 while India’s No. 8 was Mohammed Shami, followed by Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal and Jasprit Bumrah.

Bangar conceded that such a line-up does impact the way the middle-order plays, and reckoned the likes of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ravindra Jadeja – who can offer a bit of batting cushion down the order – will come into team combination conversation as the tournament goes on.

“Yes it [impact of long tail] does, when you don’t have major contributions from the lower order, wherein a Bhuvneshwar Kumar becomes vital. Or anybody who can be handy at No. 8, could be Jadeja. It gives a bit of a freedom to somebody batting at 6 or 7, they could start going at the bowling a bit earlier rather than leaving it for the last 3-4 overs. From that point of view, it’s a tactic which we’ve been debating as a team combination. There will be a point in the tournament where we will have to reassess the combinations.

India may not have yet sorted out their No.4 problem, but have identified Hardik Pandya as a floater who can slot in at two-drop if the situation demands. Bangar said the all-rounder is now India’s ‘first-choice’ if the need of the hour is acceleration.

In two of the earlier wins – against Australia and Pakistan – India threw him at No.4 with about 12-13 overs to go in the innings. He thrived in such tailor-made situations, smashing a 27-ball 48 against Australia and a 19-ball 26 against Pakistan – both times India amassing a massive 300-plus first-innings totals.

“We have been flexible with Hardik. He’s been our first choice if we need to accelerate if the position dictates. He could go in in the 33rd or the 34th over and accelerate. If not, he can fall back and accelerate like he did in the previous game. That’s something we’ve spoken of – middle order being flexible and we’ll continue to be flexible in each match. The roles have been told to each and every player.”

Bangar also had words of praise for Pandya, who he feels has come a long way since going on a six-hitting binge in a lost cause in the Champions Trophy final against Pakistan.

“He can assess situations far better. Earlier he used to depend a lot on the guy at the other end, now he is matured enough and ready to take on the bigger role. He has the ability not only to get a 30-ball 50 or a 20-ball 30 but he’s matured to an extent where he can play maybe a 40-ball 60 or 70 and fearlessly because that’s something that can be handy in a big match. He’s somebody in that mindset and phase of his career where he can take the opposition on and play fearlessly,” Bangar said.

Following their first defeat of the World Cup, India have a short turn around time as they go up against Bangladesh in the same venue – Edgbaston – on Tuesday (July 2), with a win sealing their passage to the knockouts.

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