Defensive Dhoni

Defensive Dhoni

Indian captain needs his aggressive streak of Lord's

Defensive Dhoni

 The legacy of teams is built around desire and mercilessness. The all-conquering West Indians of the 80s were a merry bunch off the field, but on it they were determined to win everything on their way.

The Australians of the 90s and 2000s resembled a biker gang of the Hollywood movies, aggressive, loud talking and ready to punch an opponent down on any given occasion. For them, defeat, simply, was not an option.

The current Indian side under MS Dhoni does not match up to those giants but they showed a rare persistence to finish off a Test away from home, while notching up a 95-run win over England at the Lord’s. So, there was pervading sense of optimism ahead of the third Test at Southampton.

But at the Ageas Bowl a different India turned out. They dropped the fifth bowler, and included Rohit Sharma. Perhaps, Dhoni thought it would be better to beef up the batting since he didn’t use the fifth bowler – Stuart Binny in this case – to a good extent in the first two Tests.

It may be a valid reason but that move sent out a wrong message about India’s intent. They were trying not to lose the match rather than trying to win the Test and possibly the series too. That lack of purpose spilled over to the match as well. In the absence of the injured Ishant Sharma, the Indian bowlers lacked someone whom they could have turned for a different opinion in a crisis time.

Unlike in Trent Bridge and Lord’s, the Southampton pitch offered a different challenge. The bowlers needed to hit the deck hard to get some purchase, and India didn’t have that kind of bowler with Ishant warming the benches. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammad Shami, mainly swing bowlers, thus struggled to get anything out of the pitch.

Once his two main bowlers were rendered ineffective, the burden on debutant Pankaj Singh and Ravindra Jadeja. Though he went wicketless, courtesy a couple of dropped chances, Pankaj bowled with gusto, but it was naïve to expect him to run through a side. Jadeja could be a dangerous customer on pitches that have rough patches, but once Alastair Cook elected to bat first the left-arm spinner didn’t have too many chances to use the wear and tear.

England off-spinner Moeen Ali was the fortunate one, and he rattled India with a six-wicket haul. Dhoni also gave another naked indication of India’s defensive mindset when he asked Jadeja to bowl negative line to Cook and Garry Ballance during the second session of the first day.


Legendary Shane Warne seethed from the commentary box: “You can’t give in on the first day of a Test match. You’re 1-0 up in the series. That’s absurd.” Those tactics would have appeared strange for Warne, an uncompromising warrior in his playing days.

That brings to us the priceless question: why R Ashwin is not playing? Of course, the off-spinner has not tasted grand success abroad in his two outings in Australia and South Africa. But that’s not reason alone to leave him out of the squad. The Chennai man does deserve another chance on two counts.

Ashwin’s ability with bat has been proved beyond doubts, while he also can provide more number of overs than either Rohit or Binny.

The presence of another wicket-taking bowler will give Dhoni an attacking option, and also some extra time for his frontline pacers to relax. Dhoni has been averse to playing two spinners away from home, pinning his reason mainly on the nature of the pitches but time might just have come for him to be a tad more tactically flexible.

He showed hints of that in the first two Tests, not just in picking up the eleven but in bowling rotations and field placements. The Jharkhand man now needs to recapture that aggressive attitude if India are to mount a serious challenge in the remainder of this series.