MUMBAI: Looking dapper in a black blazer, Mahendra Singh Dhoni strutted around the precincts of a suburban hotel in the city on Tuesday evening, greeting friends and well-wishers from the cricket fraternity with such alacrity it was clear he hadn’t met most of them in a very long time.
Dhoni last played a One-dayer against South Africa on Oct 25 last year, after which the next two months saw him participate in a domestic tournament – other than the IPL – for the first time in eight years and enjoy a rare break from the frenzied international cricket circuit. It was obvious that he had used up this time working on his already impressive washboard physique. For someone who set benchmarks in fitness over the last decade, Dhoni has raised the bar for a relatively younger team that will be flying out with him to Australia to play an ODI series and three Twenty20 Internationals.
On the face of it, the ODIs won’t be so much of a factor given the focus on the World T20 scheduled between February and March in India. The three T20s, however, will certainly help with the rehearsals.
Dhoni is heading Down Under with a clear motive. The idea is to get his bowling unit together and assess who will be ripe for the picking when the time comes to dominate at home. “We always knew that we would be playing three T20s there. Conditions will be different when we play the World T20 at home but it’s good to have this opportunity (in Australia).
“We have ample opportunity to try different players in different slots and try different bowling combinations. We will be in a better position by the start of the World T20 regarding what our playing XI should look like and what will be the best strategy,” Dhoni said on the eve of the team’s departure.
The worry isn’t the batting unit, where the first six slots in Team India have more often than not happily suffered a problem of plenty. It is the bowling unit that has required attention. “I have always maintained that you cannot go in (a series or a tournament) with a fixed plan, saying these are my death bowlers. I have to see how they are bowling every day and accordingly change my plan,” he said. “Using spinners at times or at times using a particular fast bowler who is doing well. It’s about that moment.”
There will be lot of dependence on R Ashwin, the offspinner who finished 2015 as the world’s best bowler. Having been drafted into all international formats under Dhoni’s own leadership, the captain has watched the Tamil Nadu bowler grow in stature.