By Sudipto Ganguly
MUMBAI (Reuters) – Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s finishing skills remain unmatched and the former captain will be an asset in India’s lower middle order at this year’s World Cup, former team mate Suresh Raina told Reuters.
The sight of Dhoni depositing Sri Lanka seamer Nuwan Kulasekara into the Wankhede Stadium stands to seal victory in the 2011 World Cup final is etched in the memory of most Indians.
No target was deemed out of reach with the hard-hitting right-hander at the crease but that clean striking and fluid swing of the heavy bat are rare these days and many believe Dhoni is no more the finisher that he was before.
His sharp glovework makes Dhoni India’s first choice wicketkeeper in limited-overs cricket but his batting position for the World Cup, when he will be 38, continues to be debated.
“For MS, the ideal position would be number five or six,” Raina, who is an integral part of the Dhoni-led Chennai Super Kings side in the Indian Premier League, said in an interview.
“He is such a keen reader of the game and brings years of experience. When required he can build up an innings and his finishing skills are unmatched.”
Dhoni has played 340 ODIs for India and scored more than 10,000 runs at an average of just under 51. His role as a finisher is crucial for India’s World Cup campaign with the team’s number four batting position still to be sealed.
That has led to suggestions that captain Virat Kohli, also the team’s best batsman, should bat a place lower than his usual number three spot.
“I think number three or four should be good (for Kohli),” Raina, a member of India’s 2011 World Cup team, said. “If the top order topples quickly, we need someone like Kohli to keep it together.”
Raina believes top-ranked England will be a strong contender with their home advantage while India, Australia, West Indies and New Zealand are the other teams to watch out for.
“For me the most balanced team will win the World Cup,” the 32-year-old said. “English conditions are helpful for the seamers but in the recent years we have seen spinners also do well.
“Last year when I was playing against Ireland and England, our wrist spinners did really well. Team India is shaping up really well in this regard, a healthy mix of youth and experience.
“And a pace attack that is bowling beautifully in all conditions. No grey areas as such.”
Once considered an automatic selection in India’s limited-overs sides, Raina played the last of his 226 one-dayers in July, 2018.
An aggressive left-handed batsman and a part-time off-spinner, Raina is also known for his electric fielding and the all-rounder still harbours hopes of making the World Cup squad.
The IPL, which starts later this month, will be his last opportunity to impress the selectors before the World Cup kicks off on May 30.
“I have a mix of activities that I do, I am currently doing a lot of high intensity workouts in the gym, followed by strength and conditioning sessions,” the IPL’s leading run-scorer said.
“I’m at the nets three-four times a week. The Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy (India’s domestic Twenty20 competition) has given me some match practise before the IPL.
“As an Indian player my job is to work hard and hope for the best.”
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Amlan Chakraborty)