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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • rugved on July 28, 2011, 7:06 GMT

    To be honest the batting is what cost India, as in both innings India couldn't get past 400. To defeat any top cricketing nation you need to score 400 plus in the first innings or 400 plus in the second innings to settle for a draw. But neither scenarios happened so India lost. The bowling department has never beed a major strength for India, its the batting which is the key. But take no credit away from England as they played superbly and deserved to win.

  • Alex on July 27, 2011, 23:44 GMT

    Batting woes will continue with Sehwag if and when he return due to no match practice . You cannot warm up in a test match when playing against any of the top 4 teams in the world today . It just won't work .

  • michael on July 27, 2011, 17:59 GMT

    India are heading the same way as the Aussies- Where will they be in 2 years with no Dravid ,Tendulkar and Laxman? The Aussies lost several world class players in one go and never recovered. an old team past its sell by date. England has a solid core of players for the next 5 years

  • Dummy4 on July 27, 2011, 15:39 GMT

    For folks who want Mukund to be dropped, then as well drop Raina. He scored a zero in the first innings. Ridiculous !!! If there is one batsman who can be dropped because of performance in this one game alone, it has to be Dhoni. We lost the match because of our bowling - not our batsmen. From 62/5, we let them get another 220 runs. That and Dhoni's wicketkeeping. Our batting is fine.

  • kumar on July 27, 2011, 14:01 GMT

    @5wombats, just think about ENG without Broad in first innings. Hence I said "good bowling from India" without Zaheer. Dude Ishant and PK are young and absolutely inexperienced bowlers for test itself. Experienced ENG batsmen crumbled down in Ishant's (22 years old) bowling in second innings at their home pitch, why? I donno what went wrong after lunch. May be matter of confidence again. Regarding Somerset match Strauss's performance says everything. Why do you think other ENG batsmen failed in first innings? Peterson was the real man though he was very lucky on that day. Yes 5th day was disappointing because VVS, RD and MSD played lay shots and lost the chance of drawing or winning (if played with full abilities). Tough to handle with so many confusions, hurdles and injuries with ZERO practice. I rate this handicapped Indian team's performance as far far better when compared to ENG's when they toured India with full strength last time.

  • Dummy4 on July 27, 2011, 13:57 GMT

    @alexk - Paul Valthaty for the test squad? You have got to be kidding me.

    T20 or even ODIs you might have a case, but for the test squad? lol..

  • Dummy4 on July 27, 2011, 13:23 GMT

    Harbhajan, India's most experienced bowler, wore a deflated look for most of the Test and his match figures of 56-4-218-1.................EGGJACTLY...I meant exactly....That stat alone should indicate to Dhoni that Harbhajan is not an asset anymore but a liability now days. Someone rightly pointed out that Yuvraj would have taken at least 3 wickets if he had bowled even 30 overs in the whole test....And with the kind of attitude and spirit Yuvraj has he may have score at least 60 odd runs in both innings. Yuvraj may be weak against swing bowlingbut if he survives initial few overs and then clicks...a quick century is on the cards. Harbhajan currently provides no value either in bowling nor in batting. Remove Mukund ( just becos he may not handle pressure since he is a rookie) and remove bhajji. Get in an extra bowler and Yuvi . Take a risk and ask Dhoni or Yuvi to open.

  • Dummy4 on July 27, 2011, 13:13 GMT

    India will bounceback,I have no doubt. H/ever I'll like to suggest the foll. 1.India shouldn't force the recovery prog. of Z K, Let him be fit for the decisive 3rd test. 2.M Patel is the man to replace ZK. He gets very close to the stumps, & bowls wicket to wicket, s/thing like McGrath. He will get swing & will be more than useful in this Indian attack.3. Yuvraj is a more than useful all rounder. His bowling can take of the likes of Pieterson & maybe some others. He will give some runs. Even though Swann will get him. Swann & Z Khan r great bowlers to lefties.

  • Wala on July 27, 2011, 12:59 GMT

    Well Dhoni should realize it is the batsmen who failed not the bowlers. If the batsmen cannot bat beyond 350, there is no chance of winning the match.

  • Dummy4 on July 27, 2011, 12:47 GMT

    There are many factors that contributed.

    If Dhoni suspected lack of full fitness of Zaheer there was little logic in opting to bowl first, especially when you are team that is supposed to be a strong batting line up. Some will say overcast conditions pointed to a bowl first choice. England these days is mostly cloudy. It looked a timid decision to me and I was disappointed at the toss itself.

    Injuries and illness can be unavoidable, but how about application. What I saw (second innings only) Rahul's dismissal shot was too tentative. Sachin was batting like a rabbit all the time. LBW, dropped catch were damning evidence. At 40, in big match situation, he has not learned how to leave his nerves in the dressing room. VVS shot was prodigal in view of the match situation. Harbhajan did not seem to be bothered. The way he was chewing gum I knew he was nervous inside; his high heave was out of context and totally unpardonable.

    It looked the team had not decided whether to chase or defend

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