Dhoni should play four bowlers. Here's why…

Colombo: It’s two in the afternoon, and only 31 degrees Celsius in the sun. But still the heat could kill you. The humidity saps your energy and by the time you are through the nets session, all you want to take a cold shower and sleep.

But just a few hours back, the Indian team turned up in force for their optional practice at the Nondescripts Cricket Club on the eve of their first match against Afghanistan. All the major batsmen, barring Virender Sehwag, turned up for the nets session. There wasn’t too much warming-up, certainly no football considering the heat, before the team hit the nets.

First in were Gautam Gambhir and Rohit Sharma. Virat Kohli followed next. Mahendra Singh Dhoni threw his bat at everything. Throughout the session, Yuvraj Singh kept getting throw downs in one corner of the field from fielding coach Trevor Penny.

But nobody really kept an eye on the batting. They were good and everyone knew that. The main attention was focussed on the bowlers who didn’t turn up for the session — Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh, R Ashwin and Irfan Pathan were missing and resting their weary limbs at the Taj Samundra.

Dhoni with Fletcher during practice. AP

Given the heat, their absence is perhaps a sign of what India’s bowling line-up may look like in the first game. To have the same bowlers come out and bowl for a two-hour session just wouldn’t have been fair to them.

And that brings us to all the suggestions whether India should play five bowlers in T20 matches. Commentators have spoken about it, columnists have written about it and the common man is thinking about it – but what are Dhoni’s thoughts on the matter?

“My ideal bowling combination will be three pacers and one spinner and part-timers. Unlike Indian conditions, where there is a chance of playing two specialist spinners,” said Dhoni at a press briefing.

And honestly, that’s the only way to go about things. India’s strength is it’s batting and there is no reason to weaken that. Dhoni virtually spelled out the batting order for India when he was asked whether he would consider batting up the order.

“No I don’t think I would do that. We have Sehwag and Gambhir as openers. Virat at number three. Raina, Yuvraj and Rohit are in next and I want to bat after that,” said the Indian skipper.

That’s seven batsmen. Argument closed. India has been playing with seven batsmen for a long time and it doesn’t make sense to change tactics suddenly. Also, one thing that seems to have gone unnoticed is that during the warm-up game against Pakistan, India did not use its part-timers much.

The only part-timer who got an over was Yuvraj Singh and he bowled just one over. Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli and Virender Sehwag can also roll their arm over and that adds a lot more variety to the attack. They have all bowled regularly in the IPL and even in ODI matches. If you also put them in the mix, then India have four regular bowlers and five part-timers (three off-spinners, one left-arm spinner and one dibbly-dobbly medium-pacer).

Sources in the Indian team reveal that there is virtually no way Dhoni is looking to play five bowlers.

“How often did Dada play five bowlers? How often has India played five bowlers?” the source asked. “And even if we do play five bowlers… who do we play? A Dinda? A Piyush Chawla? Or A Balaji? And we have so many part-time bowlers…. Koi toh chalega.”

Now none of these bowlers compare to a Dale Steyn, but we’ve even seen him getting hammered in a T20 match. We saw it in a match between the Royal Challengers Bangalore and the Deccan Chargers in the fifth season.

In a match played on 6 May, Steyn started off brilliantly and even bowled a maiden to Chris Gayle no less. His first spell read 2-1-7-0 but then when AB De Villiers got stuck in, he had no chance. His third over was smashed for 23 runs (6, 2, 4, 6, 4, 1).

It was a reminder to all of us that in T20, even the greats can crush and burn. Such is the format which is why the only way to play it is to trust in your strengths and back them to the hilt, for once it begins… there is no turning back.