England v India, 1st npower Test, Lord's, 5th day July 25, 2011

What could go wrong, went wrong - Dhoni

So who's to blame for India's defeat? MS Dhoni, for putting England in to bat? India's senior batsmen, for playing shots that, to the distant eye, seemed unnecessary? Harbhajan Singh, for yet again failing to have an impact on a match? Or even the under-preparedness of the India players, most of whom were struggling to come to terms with conditions at the practice match in Somerset?

Dhoni himself blamed the loss of Zaheer Khan, his strike bowler, to a hamstring injury on the first afternoon. He blamed the absence of a third fast bowler to assist Ishant Sharma and Praveen Kumar. He blamed a surface that did not assist turn on the first two days and relegated his lead spinner Harbhajan to playing the role of a sandbag for Kevin Pietersen in the first innings. He blamed the circumstances that forced the batting order to be completely reshuffled in the second innings.

"Most of the things that could have gone wrong in the game went wrong. It was tough for both the bowlers and the batsmen," Dhoni said with a resigned look at the media conference. The turning point in the Test came on the first afternoon, when Zaheer stopped mid-stride and then walked off to the dressing room with a hamstring injury. It was a bad setback for Zaheer, who was starting to dominate the England batsmen and had dismissed openers Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook.

England's confidence rose and Pietersen rode roughshod over an Indian bowling attack comprising two fast bowlers who were playing their maiden Test in England, and a spinner who had been rendered impotent by the conditions.

"It became quite tough for us after losing Zaheer Khan on the first day," Dhoni said. "It was very difficult to bowl with three bowlers. The pitch did not take too much turn on the first two days and we did not have too many options. So it was quite difficult in terms of resources."

Praveen and Ishant toiled hard in Zaheer's absence, and improved as the game went on. Praveen recovered from first-morning-Lord's nerves to bounce back with controlled swing and bag a maiden five-for in the first innings, and Ishant injected a renewed sense of purpose into India with an energetic spell of seam bowling on the fourth morning. India missed out on a third seamer, though, which Dhoni said made all the difference. "We just needed that one extra bowler and things could have been different but it is something that you can't really do anything about as injuries happen."

Harbhajan, India's most experienced bowler, wore a deflated look for most of the Test and his match figures of 56-4-218-1 only raised questions about his position as lead spinner. Dhoni, though, did not appear too bothered. "I saw a lot of improvement [in Harbhajan]. He bowled a lot slower in this game. It was slightly tough on him, especially when Pietersen was set and began going after him. There was no turn to deceive the batsman. But I was really impressed with the pace at which Harbhajan bowled. As the series progresses, it will be really interesting to see him bowl at some of the venues that are known to assist spin."

With their bowling in a shambles, India's chances of escaping the first Test with a draw hinged exclusively on their vaunted batting order. No batsman, barring Rahul Dravid, lasted long enough in the first innings. On the last morning, India were 378 runs adrift of the huge target set by England. In the absence of Virender Sehwag, a victory was unimaginable. A draw, though, was possible, especially in conditions that were tough but not unplayable.

Yet the highest partnership in the second innings was 75 runs, between Dravid and VVS Laxman for the second wicket, closely followed by the 60-run alliance between Dhoni and Suresh Raina for the sixth wicket. While England had three 100-plus stands in the match, India had none. Dhoni defended his batsmen, pointing to the fact that an injury to Gautam Gambhir and Sachin Tendulkar's illness had forced a reshuffle in the batting order.

"Yes, we could have done with one more partnership from the top-order batsmen. But it was tough because most of our batsmen were batting in slots different to their original number. Rahul opened, Sachin batted at a different number, Gautam batted at a different number. That also added pressure."

The India batsmen also struggled to come to terms with the inconsistent bounce, he said. "As the Test progressed, what we saw was variable bounce, which meant we couldn't really leave deliveries on length saying it was a three-quarter length delivery and would go over the stumps. So, more often than not, we were forced to play deliveries and we chased them."

Comparing the current Lord's track to what he encountered on India's tour in 2007, when he helped save the first Test for India with an unbeaten half-century, Dhoni claimed the bounce was more even four years ago. "This time there were many occasions when the ball did not comfortably travel to the keeper so the variable bounce did have an impact."

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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