India team bosses on Monday defended M.S. Dhoni after the wicketkeeper-batsman came under fire for slow batting towards the end of his side's World Cup defeat to England.
Chasing a stiff target 338 to win, previously unbeaten India needed 71 runs from the last five overs of Sunday's match at Edgbaston, with veteran big-hitter Dhoni and Kedar Jadhav at the crease.
But the pair added just 39, scrambling singles but failing to find the boundary regularly, to finish on 306-5. Dhoni was unbeaten on 42 off 31 deliveries while Jadhav was 12 not out off 13 balls.
The two batsmen were criticised in the Indian press and on social media, with pundits labelling their approach as "baffling".
But assistant coach Sanjay Bangar said the criticism levelled at the former captain surprised him, adding that 37-year-old Dhoni was "doing the job for the team".
"Except for one odd innings, he has done the role always. Five out of seven games he has done the job for the team," said Bangar.
"If you see the earlier games, against South Africa he stitched together a partnership of 70 (the partnership was 74) with Rohit (Sharma). After that, what was required of him against Australia he did that.
"In Manchester on a difficult track (against West Indies) he got a vital fifty for us. Here also he was striking the ball really well. I'm surprised that this question continues to come up every now and then."
A powerful middle-order batsman who led India to World Cup glory at Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium in 2011, Dhoni's finishing prowess has recently been questioned.
Earlier in the current tournament he faced flak for his slow knock against Afghanistan, when he scored just 28 off 52 deliveries.
Bangar said England's excellent bowling was the reason for India's struggles in Birmingham, rather than Dhoni's alleged lack of intent.
"If you look at the way they bowled towards the end, they used the dimensions really well and created difficult angles for our batters to hit," said Bangar.
"In those large boundaries and with the type of balls they were bowling -- slower bouncers, a lot of into-the-wicket deliveries, slower balls, I just felt maybe last one or two overs, the difference between runs required and balls left were a bit too much."
Rising star Rishabh Pant impressed with his cameo at number four and Bangar said the young batsman would keep his place in the side for Tuesday's match against Bangladesh, also at Edgbaston.
“I felt he had a decent innings,” Bangar told reporters at Edgbaston. “He got 32 and played a couple of god shots, got a partnership going (with Hardik Pandya), so we’re going to persist with him.
“The team management was feeling the absence of a left-hander since Shikhar got injured,” Bangar said, explaining the decision to send Pant ahead of Pandya on Sunday.
“It was a ploy to use right-left combination in the middle overs to upset the bowling plans. I feel because of that Adil Rashid could not bowl the number of overs he’d have usually bowled.”
The 21-year-old Pant, who joined the team in the middle of the tournament after an injury to opener Shikhar Dhawan, made 32 off 29 balls.
India need one win from their remaining two matches to guarantee a place in the World Cup semi-finals.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Dibyangshu Sarkar