His comments to the press after India's loss to Australia at Brisbane are stunning. Does M S Dhoni really believe that the reason to not play India's 3 senior batsmen is that they will cost India 20 extra runs in the field? This is remarkably narrow minded. As if runs are only leaked because of bad fielding. Here's more than 20 runs that India would not have conceded had their bowler's not delivered rank long hops. Every bowler will get it wrong occasionally, but the number of runs that India conceded by bowling it short and wide, or merely short, to be square cut or pulled - those are the worst, and most easily avoidable kinds of runs that a side can concede. Basically, those are gifts, free hits - where there is nearly zero risk of dismissal on a good wicket with reasonably predictable bounce and carry. A batsman won't be bowled, won't be LBW, won't be caught at the wicket because the bat is not vertical, unless he's horribly unlucky.
Vinay Kumar and Irfan Pathan are not quick enough to bowl short at the Australian batsmen on these wickets. They also lack Zaheer guile. Zaheer's speed statistics may look similar to Vinay Kumar's, but through out the Test series and even more generally, when he bowls the short ball he really bends his back and the short ball rises to the batsman's throat. It should not be news to India that Vinay Kumar and Irfan Pathan are not quick enough to bowl short pitched stuff!
Commentary from Cricinfo. I'm not even counting the half-volleys that India's bowlers bowled early in the innings, or the length balls that Vinay Kumar bowled in the slog, just the rank long hops:
Vinay Kumar to MEK Hussey, FOUR, slapped that! Drops it short of a length from round the wicket, sits up nicely for Hussey to bludgeon that in front of square on the on side
Vinay Kumar to MEK Hussey, FOUR, making good use of the vacant spaces here Hussey, short and wide outside off this time and Hussey rolls his wrists and cuts wide of backward point
Pathan to Warner, FOUR, banged away. A bit of a sissy start this for Irfan. No pace, no movement, it sits up pleasantly outside off stump and Warner shows it the way to the cover boundary.
Pathan to Forrest, FOUR, if Irfan drops it short at that pace, he's asking for trouble, Forrest fetches that from the off stump and clubs it over midwicket
Yadav to Forrest, FOUR, 142.5 kph, not the best of starts, short and wide and Forrest carves it over cover point, looked a touch risky at first
Yadav to MEK Hussey, FOUR, he's gifted a half volley on the pads and he moves across and clips it down to fine leg, used the pace of the ball there
Yadav to MEK Hussey, FOUR, 141 kph, too short by Yadav, sits up nicely for Hussey as he swivels and plays the short-arm pull over square leg
Khan to Warner, FOUR, 85.7 mph, At long last, the first four of the day. Zaheer loses his line and strays down the leg side. Warner is inside the line and just helps it along to fine leg.
Sharma to MEK Hussey, FOUR, 56.5 mph, short and pulled! Hussey rocks back at the crease and clubs it over midwicket
I think Dhoni is right when he says that India can't afford to use Tendulkar, Sehwag, Gambhir, Zaheer and Ashwin in the same XI, fielding wise. He's right because this imposes a structural limitation to how well India can do in the field. But by that same count, can India afford to play Vinay Kumar and Umesh Yadav and Irfan Pathan in the same XI? Aren't the first two known to be erratic? Does that not impose a structural limit to the amount of control India will exert in the field?
The best way to hide Tendulkar at mid-wicket, is to have bowlers who will bowl on one side of the wicket and require the batsman to use some risky improvisation to hit the ball into the leg side. Or, the best way to hide Zaheer Khan at short third man to the off spinner to have an off spinner who rarely (and by that I mean, once in 10 overs) allows the batsman to square cut him!
India's problems, contrary, amazingly, to Dhoni's opinion, do not lie in the fielding. India just won a world cup with a playing XI that included Tendulkar, Sehwag, Gambhir, Munaf Patel and Zaheer Khan!
If you compare Munaf Patel and Umesh Yadav - the net control that Munaf gives his captain is probably greater than Umesh Yadav. Umesh Yadav is the better fielder, but Munaf makes fewer unforced errors while bowling and have far greater control.
In an ODI side, India should always pick Munaf Patel ahead of an inferior bowler who may fielder better than Munaf. They should do this if they want to concede fewer runs! The problem gets worse on bigger grounds, because a bowler who can't bowl to his field exposes a far greater portion of the field to the batsman than a bowler who can bowl to his field.
Basically, any time you see a batsman pulling (but not hooking) or square cutting, that means that the bowler has made an unforced errors. It is possible to bowl short as an attacking ploy - just look at Hilfenhaus's short deliveries yesterday, they were aimed at the body with venom. But India's bowlers don't have that kind of control.
So as brilliant as M S Dhoni is in the limited overs game, I have to disagree with his emphasis on the fact that the senior batsmen will concede 20 extra runs in the field. His bowlers concede many many more. But then again, maybe he knows that and can't bring himself to say it.