Back pain adds to headache

SP

Just when it seemed like this winter of woe couldn't get worse for the Indian team, Mahendra Singh Dhoni felt a twitch in his back during the final set of fielding drills at the Feroze Shah Kotla on the eve of India's third ODI against Pakistan.

There was no obvious sign of discomfort because the India skipper did practice, but even during the curtailed nets session, Dhoni felt pain in his back.

The Indian cricket board is flying in Tamil Nadu's Dinesh Karthik, but so dependent is this misfiring batting line-up on Dhoni that the skipper, even if only half fit, may push himself to play purely as a batsman and allow the back-up to keep wickets.

In the second ODI at Kolkata, Dhoni scored nearly one-third of the team's runs. In the first match in Chennai, he made half the runs. As Pakistan inflicted a first series loss at home in over three years, no other batsman even managed a half-century.

In the midst of the batting ruins, Dhoni played two unbeaten knocks — a century and a fifty. Suresh Raina's 43 is the next best score in this series.

If the cacophony of voices from former cricketers who have called for him to be removed as skipper is getting shriller with each mounting loss, Dhoni the batsman has done enough to be excused from this inquisition in the shorter versions of the game. Chennai and Kolkata, not to forget the recent 99 in the final Test against England, are not the only instances of Dhoni's ability with the bat in trying conditions. Over the past year, the Indian skipper averages over 72 in the 50-over game.

Whitewash fears

Even as his team stares at the possibility of a whitewash (India haven't been blanked at home in nearly 30 years) at the hands of arch-rivals Pakistan, Dhoni remains a doubtful starter. At a time when the side's primary strength, which is batting is undergoing a crisis of confidence, the absence of Dhoni will only play into the hands of the opposition.

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