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Mumbai Indians in a bind over batting

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It’s early days yet, but there’s enough signs that Mumbai Indians have a fair bit of work to do before they settle on a batting order that can challenge opposition IPL teams. In two matches in four days, their batsmen have put up totals of 122 for 7 and 115 for 9. Both matches ended in defeat. On both occasions, a common theme was on view: shaky start, shaky middle order and shaky finish.

In the tournament opener on Wednesday, MI were set 164 and finished on 122 for 7. Three batsmen made it to double-figures – Nos 2 (Aditya Tare with 24), 3 (Ambati Rayudu with 48) and 4 (Rohit Sharma with 27). On Saturday in Dubai, MI were asked to bat by Virat Kohli and struggled from the start, with only four batsmen crossing 10 – Michael Hussey (16), Tare (17), Rayudu (35) and Corey Anderson (18). Kieron Pollard again failed and the lower order offered no fight.

Tellingly, MI were tied down by the impressive legspin of Yuvzendra Chahal (4-0-17-2) and surprisingly accurate Ashok Dinda (4-0-14-1) while Mitchell Starc bagged 2 for 21 from his quota. In contrast, Parthiv Patel and AB de Villiers were able to pick runs off Pragyan Ojha and Jasprit Bumrah as they smoothed over a poor start with a 99-run association.

A total of 115 for 9 was never really going to challenge the best batting line-up of the tournament. Despite stellar opening spells from Lasith Malinga and Zaheer Khan, who handed Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh ducks in the same over, RCB won in the 18th over with seven wickets remaining. To say that Mumbai Indians were poor with the bat is an understatement and this with RCB dropping two catches and missing three run outs.

The opening partnership is crucial in any form of the game, but in Tests and even in ODIs, batsmen have the cushion of being able to spend some time to play themselves in before stepping on the pedal. Not so in T20 cricket, where batsmen must soak up the pressure of early wickets without letting it hamper the momentum of the innings. A strong start is arguably the single most important factor for success in T20’s compressed nature, but so far MI have not been able to lay platforms.

The opening combination has in fact been the franchise’s bugbear for most of the IPL’s history and now that the best opener they ever had, Dwayne Smith, is not around they look poor. In game one, Hussey and Tare put on 24 in 4.4 overs before the former was bowled by Sunil Narine. On Sunday, the opening stand was worth 20 in 3.5 overs. Hussey in particular has struggled for timing and the team will hope he returns to form quickly considering how huge he is for the line-up.

As he has done in India’s limited-overs side countless times, Rohit fell to mistimed lofted shots. Against KKR, on 27, he swung Morne Morkel to deep midwicket in the 16th over. Against RCB he chipped straight to long-off for 2 on the first ball of the tenth over. His team went from a healthy 60 for 2 in nine overs to 115 in 20. Rohit cannot be singled out but as the leader and team’s best batsman – a true IPL superstar – he would do well to be more judicious with his shots.

Rohit has previously batted at No 4 for the franchise but currently at the international level he is opening for India and thus the logical decision would have been to push him up the order in the IPL too. But the management has not and this could have Rohit in a bit of quandary, considering he has suddenly found himself in an entirely different situation. The team would do well to consider having him open with Hussey.

Having enjoyed a memorable 2013 with the IPL and Champions League titles, Mumbai Indians entered IPL 7 as perhaps as the team under most amount of pressure not entirely because they were defending champions but because they had big voids to fill after February’s player auction. With Sachin Tendulkar, Dinesh Karthik, Dwayne Smith and Mitchell Johnson gone, the Reliance-owned team’s test was always going to how the replacements fared.

A closer look at their squad composition shows reliance – no pun intended – on their Indian talent and it’s here that MI are a bit short. The challenge has been to fit in the extra domestic batsmen and the management has had to play one from CM Gautam, Aditya Tare, Apoorva Wankhede and Jalaj Saxena in each game. With all due respect to these four domestic players, their T20 numbers are not that impressive – and that means the international players have more to do.

Fans of the franchise will hope this muddle batting order gets sorted out soon, before MI slip too far behind.

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ICC World T20: MHA calls review meet to discuss security for Indo-Pak match in Dharamsala

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ICC World T20: MHA calls review meet to discuss security for Indo-Pak match in Dharamsala

A delegation from Pakistan also visited the Stadium on Monday to review security arrangements.

New Delhi: Dark clouds over the high-profile clash of the ICC World T20 between India and Pakistan, scheduled to be played in Himanchal, are still intact.

As per the latest updates, Ministry of Home Affaris (MHA) has called a review meeting on Tuesday to discuss security of the match, which is to be played on March 19 at HPCA stadium in Dharamsala.

The two-member delegation from Pakistan has also visited the Stadium on Monday to review security arrangements ahead of the much-anticipated match.

Indo-Pak match, which is possibly the biggest game of the tournament, has been under scrutiny since Himachal Pradesh CM Virbhadra Singh said he opposed the BCCI’s decision to stage it in his state.

While BCCI has assured the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) of complete security to their player, but several groups have threatened to disrupt this encounter.

Earlier, speaking to CNN-IBN, PCB chief Shaharyar Khan had said that he was not keen on his team playing in Dharamsala and that he would be happy to consider an alternate venue should BCCI suggest one.

He said they were open at any venue across the country like Mohali, Kolkata and Chennai.

Khan said that the statements from the Congress party and its CM did not inspire confidence in visitors’ team.

“The CM of Himachal Pradesh has said that he won’t provide us with security, what greater threat can you think of? Our team is there to review the security,” he stated.

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For Mahendra Singh Dhoni, age has different connotations

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For Mahendra Singh Dhoni, age has different connotations

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, from time to time, sends across messages to national selectors, his own teammates and to fans through a prying media.

Ever since he quit Test cricket, the one question he is frequently confronted is when will he be quitting the other two formats. After the World Cup, he was asked again about his retirement plans. His answer was a crisp one liner:

“I am 33, I’m still running and I am still fit, next year (at the World T20) will be the right time to decide if I should play World Cup 2019.”

For good measure, like all sportspersons, he says he plays for the enjoyment of the game and the day he decides to go, “I will pack my bags and happily go away”.

After Mustafizur Rahman damaged Dhoni’s and India team’s reputation with back-to-back fifers, the question of his retirement cropped up again and this time he turned melodramatic, stating that by removing him the team was expected to do well and if he was the reason for the down slide of Indian cricket he would step down.

“I was never really in line to become a captain. It was a job or responsibility for me. I have taken that responsibility. If they want to take it away, I am happy to give it away.”

Then came the ODI series in Australia and India lost 1-4 despite scoring 300-plus scores in four of the five matches and 295 in the other, but the T20 sweep gave him a new life and the team suddenly looked world-beaters. Their potential to win the T20 World Cup can be seen from the way Dhoni moulded a team with some outstanding fielders.

So, the upcoming World T20 is more important to him than, perhaps, the team. If India win, he might say he would like to take one match at a time, one series after another for the next three years!

Dhoni is not one to miss out on a trick. He quickly decided to quit Test cricket midway through a series in Australia, as he had hinted a year ago about giving up one of the three punishing formats. After seeing Virat Kohli’s imaginative and aggressive captaincy in Tests down under, people did not see beyond the World Cup.

The World Cup revived Dhoni’s fortunes. His team remained unbeaten till they lost to Australia in the semi-finals. They bowled out all their seven opponents till their exit game to set a record.

There was another hiccup when India lost the ODI series in Bangladesh for the first time last year and soon after South Africa got the better of Dhoni’s side here at home. There was another round of Dhoni bashing. The selectors, however, backed him and made sure there were no other media plants about him being replaced by announcing that he would remain captain till the T20 World Cup.

He has a knack of speaking his mind out and his messages are taken seriously, too, by one and all. He is accused of getting rid of seniors, barring Sachin Tendulkar, from the team — first as One-Day captain and then from the Test squad. Sourav Ganguly and V.V.S. Laxman felt aggrieved at the way the message was sent across.

The much-maligned Greg Chappell noticed a spark in Dhoni and marked him down as a future captain one year before he actually took over as captain of the shorter formats and he went on to win the inaugural T20.

Five months after winning the T20 championship in South Africa, Dhoni’s next move was to weed out seniors from the ODI side, though a couple of them returned to the side briefly before bowing out.

After winning his first major title he said he would prefer daring players willing to stand in front of a moving truck. After winning the Commonwealth Bank ODI series, his tone was a little more assertive. He said he was pretty clear about the players he wanted in the squad, a statement even Ganguly did not make publicly. He was roundly criticised as selectoral deliberations were leaked, making him out a villain.

He told the youngsters he had fought for then that they must perform to vindicate his belief in them. After winning the series, he rubbed it in, asking the media why the team selection was no longer an issue, wondering what would have happened if they had not won!

If Dhoni thought Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly would be liabilities in the Twenty20 field, he now finds age is only a number when it came to Ashish Nehra, 36, Harbhajan Singh, 35, and Yuvraj Singh, who at 34 is as old as Dhoni himself, as key figures in his scheme of things for the World T20 in India next month.

For pundits, at one point of time Dhoni was a cool, thinking captain and after defeats in a couple of series overseas he was a mere mannequin in an unmarketable garment superstore.

Dhoni is not the first captain to be sacked by media or former players and will not be the last. The board and the selectors backed captains for strange reasons, but now on the selection committee will be the sole authority as the president may not have the power to overrule it.

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Six ‘hatke’ ideas for India to conquer South Africa on Sunday

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India South africa match

Written by Nimish Dubey

It might have won the tournament twice and finished runner up once, but India have never beaten South Africa at the World Cup. Three times have the teams met at the mega event, and three times have South Africa won, notwithstanding generally decent performances from the Men in Blue (well, dark blue the first time around in 1992, and lighter shades in 1999 and 2011). Can this drought be brought to an end? Well, yes – all India need to do is score more runs than the South Africans. But that slice of cricketing common sense apart, these six tips could come handy in ending the Protean jinx. Yes, they might sound a little out of the box, but then one day cricket is all about innovation, isn’t it?

Bat second

Notice something about India’s three defeats? The Men in Blue always batted first. Yes, the South Africans bring on the implosions more often when they tend to bat second – they have lost four of their five matches in the knock out stages of the World Cup while batting second (the exception being when they batted first against Australia in the 2007 semi-final). So hot tip one for MSD and his boys: bowl first, if you win the toss. If you lose the toss, quickly shake the hand of your counterpart, and say “Oh hell, you have won the toss. Fine, we will bowl first!

Do NOT score too many

Yes, you read that right. The feet of clay of the might South Africans become most apparent when they have to chase relatively small, seemingly gettable totals. Give them a big total to chase and they will chase it down in an organised manner, feeling they have not much to lose if they fail. Put them in a winning position, as Australia did in 1999 and New Zealand did in 2011, and in creep the jitters. So switch the batting order, pack the side with bowlers, and hope to reach 200 and not 300. Impose fines on batsmen who try to bat at anything more than a run every two deliveries and go beyond the sacred mark of thirty five. And then sit back and hope that nerves do their work.

Bring on the rain

The weather forecast says that it will be cloudy in Melbourne when India and South Africa meet. If those clouds drip, half of India’s work is done. For, if past history is anything to go on, all that is needed is a spot of rain during the match for chaos to make itself felt in the South African dressing room – remember what happened with the rain breaks and revised targets in 1992 and 2003? So, do the rain dances, open the umbrellas, look up at the sky in apprehension, turn up at the toss sporting a tilak and say that the team was conducting a havan for rain…anything to make the Proteas start looking at two most feared gentlemen in cricket: Duckworth and Lewis! And ah yes, if possible, tamper the D&L sheets.

Make South Africa the favourites

All right, so this goes against the grain of the ‘We Won’t Give It Back’ slogan, but a word from the cricketing wise: uneasy lies the South African head that expects the crown. Unlike Australia, who almost revel in being the favourites, South Africa are distinctly jittery with the idea of being firm favourites when it comes to cricket. So a few kind words at the toss and at the pre-match presser on how good the South Africans will do as much damage as a few quick wickets or runs. Give them the favourites status – and relax. They will give it back to you. On a platter.

Dedicate the match to a prominent South African player

Forget about the icy cold stare of Jacques Kallis. The South Africans have always been susceptible to sentiment. Their worst World Cup performance – and indeed their only first round exit ever – came when they tried to dedicate their World Cup to their former (albeit disgraced) skipper Hansie Cronje in 2003. They have done nothing of the sort so far, so perhaps Team India could pull a quick one on them and hint that they need to dedicate the match to someone, or maybe even do one better and themselves dedicate their performance to a South African. Imagine Virat Kohli saying, “I dedicate my performance to the man I blew a kiss to in the Pepsi ad. This one is for you, Jacques.” There won’t be a dry eye in the South African dressing room, and well, misty-eyed batsmen don’t get too many, do they?

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