Notwithstanding criticism for making Ajinkya Rahane warm benches, Indian skipper MS Dhoni on 10 October hinted that the talented batsman may not feature in the playing eleven for the first ODI against South Africa as he fits into the setup only in the 'top three' batting slots.
Dhoni, who had earlier criticised Rahane for not rotating the strike enough in limited overs, said that the Mumbai batsman should only bat at the top of the order and not at five or six. With top three -- Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli -- selecting themselves for the series opener at Green Park, it is unlikely that Rahane will fit the bill. "I think four is the number for Rahane. Even four is quite low for him I would say," said Dhoni on the eve of the match.
The captain himself has promoted himself to number four and is looking for someone who can perform the role of a finisher, like what he did best for number of years. Talking more about Rahane, Dhoni said, "Opening fits him really well. Take the example of Rohit Sharma for that matter. In domestic cricket he bats lower but in international matches he opens for us. Our openers more often than not are who bat in the middle order in first class cricket.
So it is tough for him as of now. If am looking for someone to bat five or six I don't think he is the person. His strength is top of the order. If given a chance, we will try to feature him in the top three, if not then we would find it tough to place him in the playing eleven."
Rahane interestingly was made captain of the second string Indian team that toured Zimbabwe after Dhoni dropped him from the eleven during the ODIs in Bangladesh. Talking more about number six slot that he himself vacated, Dhoni said it is difficult to pick one for the role keeping in mind the performance of the T20 series that the hosts lost 0-2.
"If you are talking about that slot, you can't pick one depending on the T20 performance. You don't get to play the way you are supposed to play in an ODI. Even if they would have played, it would be difficult for us to pick one amongst the three for ODIs.
If you also see the last few series, you always felt Rahane is somebody who should bat up the order. Batting down he will face more difficulty. He is more flamboyant, more free when he bats up the order with a bit of field restrictions," said the skipper while talking about the prospect of Rahane, Ambati Rayudu and Suresh Raina coming in at six.
On the game, he doesn't see dew to be a factor at all in the day game adding that there is a good chance of picking three specialist spinners in Ravichandran Ashwin, Axar Patel and Amit Mishra. "They have watered it (pitch) a bit. It is still a little soft. But it will be different by the time the match starts. This is one venue where we can play three spinners. As I said we have to look at the wicket again. We will have to see how dry it is. What are the chances of the pitch breaking up and assisting spinners. Definitely there will be no dew, so three spinner option is available for us. We will decide tomorrow," Dhoni said.
Dhoni made it clear that Gurkeerat Singh Mann will have to wait to make his India debut. "Gurkeerat is there but he won't get the chance right away. Having said that, it is good to have people like him who are multi-talented. For now, he will have to wait for his opportunity."
Bowling as always been for an area of concern for Dhoni and in regard to the pacers, he has sought consistency from them over raw pace. With Umesh Yadav back in the side, the skipper hopes he finds consistency to compliment his speed. "We have emphasised a lot on pace but what is important is consistency. To exploit the conditions, if the wicket is on the slower side, you would want to be more consistent in your line and length and if you have pace, it can make a huge difference.
Umesh is definitely someone who can bowl quick. Over the years we have seen is that he gives us good performances but at the same time he has his off days. Hopefully more and more games will help him become consistent. Once he bowls well he does really bowl well," he said.
On South Africa as opponents, Dhoni added, "They are a very good side. A lot depends on the composition and the kind of balance you have in the team. They have quite a few who can bat and bowl. After Jacques Kallis retired they did have problems in getting that perfect all-rounder. But they have got a few who can bat and ball and that helps. Overall, what we have seen is that they are a side which does well irrespective of where they are playing. A lot of them play in the IPL, so they are used to the conditions here in India," Dhoni signed off.