England v India, 1st Investec Test, Trent Bridge July 8, 2014

India threaten to shed conservatism

The signs are that Stuart Binny has a very strong chance of making a Test debut at Trent Bridge which would signal a significant change in mindset by India overseas

Play 04:53
Agarkar: Dhoni reluctant to bat at No. 6

People have by now stopped asking MS Dhoni the question. This team has always been dismissive of the idea when outside Asia. Five bowlers without having the luxury of a genuine allrounder means Dhoni has to bat at No. 6. Outside Asia it is a risk India have not been willing to take. Dhoni has never batted at No. 6 outside Asia, which sums up their reluctance to adventure even though they have consistently struggled to take 20 wickets when the ball is not turning or reverse-swinging.

To be fair to India and Dhoni, though, it is not something they have not thought of. Dhoni is known to have agonised over the lack of even a half-decent allrounder before he left for the South Africa tour. He is known to have conveyed to Irfan Pathan that he is desperate to have him fit for England, but Irfan could not get any first-class cricket under his belt. They have not advertised it, but there have been signs that Dhoni has been preparing for this tour in advance, a change in his leadership style.

Over in South Africa and New Zealand, India got themselves into winning situations twice, but ran out of gas. The quicks were bowling spells longer than they would have liked to, overs after the 40th and before the second new ball would become soft, and the fast bowlers would not be at their most intense when the new ball would be claimed. The team management made a special request for Karnataka allrounder Stuart Binny for the England tour, and Binny furthered his credentials with a six-for in an ODI in Bangladesh.

And now that people have stopped asking India about the possibility of a fifth bowler or a half-allrounder to shore up the bowling, India seem to have shed the conservatism. Binny is highly likely to make his Test debut on Wednesday. Even if he does not and India change their minds at the last moment, it is credit to India's pleasantly surprising boldness that they have systematically tried to explore the option.

Binny had spells of decent lengths in the warm-up game in Derby and batted ahead of Rohit Sharma, scoring 81 not out. Over in Nottingham he has been getting more attention from the team management than Rohit and R Ashwin while getting a few overs in before going in to bat at No. 8.

The feedback from the batsmen in the nets has been that Binny has been bowling well. The pitch here has grass, but it is straw-coloured. The new drainage system means there is not much moisture retained underneath the surface. The team feels confident enough to go in with just five specialist batsmen and Dhoni at No. 6. Dhoni would not say it in as many words, but there were enough indications in his press conference that Binny was good for a debut.

Asked if he was confident of batting at No. 6 outside Asia, Dhoni said: "Well I have to be. That's a crucial phase of the game where you can turn matches."

If India go ahead and play Binny, this will be a welcome move. Sometimes you have to change your methods when the results are refusing to change. Johannesburg and Wellington would have hurt India in the gut. Such glorious opportunities of overseas wins, but they did not have enough left to barge through the door once they had unlocked it. The message to India would have been that they need to get out of their comfort zone if they are to win away Tests.

A lot of India's solidness in Test cricket has been based on their batting, but most of their famous wins outside Asia since 2000 have been sealed by bowlers in low-scoring matches. They have not had that quality - at least not over two innings - since 2011.

It is not that Binny would have got you the wickets of Faf du Plessis and Brendon McCullum when Zaheer Khan could not. Binny is not that good a bowler. He is a steady medium-pacer who becomes effective when conditions are favourable, a bit like his father Roger. When India won at Headingley in 1986, Roger took five wickets in the first innings, and Chandrakant Pandit, playing as a specialist batsman, batted at No. 6. That side, though, had the luxury of Kapil Dev and Ravi Shastri. This one doesn't.

Binny is not a big threat as a bowler, but it is his presence with 10 steady overs in the middle that is bound to help the other bowlers. Just telling the bowlers there is someone to bowl those dirty overs when they are recovering in time to take the new ball can make a huge difference. He is of course not the ideal choice. He would not make a Test side as a batsman or a bowler alone. He is neither a top-six batsman nor a frontline bowler. Sometimes you just have to go for the next-best.

"Rather than coming to press conferences and talking about not having a pace bowling all-rounder, it's better to try and utilise what we have," Dhoni said. "Stuart is someone who can bowl a bit and at the same time bat as well. If we can give him enough chances and groom him, then he can be someone who can do that job for us over the next six-eight months. He won't be as good as someone like Jacques Kallis but he can be someone who can bowl that 10 overs and bat a bit, so he has got the talent."

Binny is in the right place and at the right time. India are in the mood to take the risk, and he is fit, willing, eager, and has the potential to surprise. Didn't we ridicule them when Dhoni and Duncan Fletcher set about to turn Ravindra Jadeja into a Test player?

This move could of course bomb. As can any really. What is important here, though, is that India are willing to sacrifice the safety net of a No. 6 batsman in pursuance of a Test win, that Dhoni is ready to step up and take the extra responsibility of batting at No. 6, and that for once they have been planning for a tour well in advance. Under Dhoni India have never started a tour outside Asia with such intent. They might develop cold feet overnight, they might fail at this, and if it works it is not likely to make a huge tangible impact. However, it is better than losing the same old way over and over again.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on July 9, 2014, 12:39 GMT

    Why not take an allrounder who is way ahead of Binny? Bengal's LR Shukla has been a star batsman in green wickts, he is brilliant as fielder. As a bowler Binny is more steadier but Shukla always breaks partnerships

  • Daison on July 9, 2014, 8:59 GMT

    Its the right move to play Binny. We cant have Jack Kallis, lets play who we have. At least Dhoni wouldnt have to remove the wicket keeping gloves and start bolwing. What if Binny surprises everyone! You would never know if you dont give him a chance. Good move, hope he makes the debut. Its ok trying new things to win if old ways are not working.

  • Dummy4 on July 9, 2014, 8:53 GMT

    Sid is right to highlight the issue of playing an all-rounder. The problem, as he himself acknowledges, is that Binny is not good enough to play either as batsman or bowler. He averages 36 in domestic first class cricket with the bat and something just over 1 wicket per match with the ball. If a fast bowling all-rounder was required, as others here have argued, Rishi Dhawan would have been a better choice. Does anyone remember the idea of a balanced bowling attack - 3 quicks and two spinners? India have two spinners who can also bat respectably - Dhoni at 6 with Ashwin 7 and Jadeja 8 would mean a balanced bowling attack and a deep batting order. True Ashwin has not performed overseas but he has only played 4 tests and he has proven he can bat in tests. A spinner can hold an end up while the quickies have a rest before the new ball just as well as a medium pacer - a classy spinner is arguably better than a medium paced trundler. The drier, better-drained English wickets also favour spin

  • satz on July 9, 2014, 8:50 GMT

    there are too many myths and shallow views being peddled here.

    That 5 bowlers is daring is itself a dubious assumption.Its neither daring or positive.Its just foolhardy idea based on irrational and false assumptions.

    Attacks don't become more dangerous just because a 5th bowler joins them! leave alone a two bit bowler like binny.

    So many times in the past, the likes of shastri and gavaskar has raised ruckus with this theory. five bowlers have been tried and the bowling attack has remained as ineffective. it has happened so many times in the past that it not funny . India often had 5 bowlers in the 80's. it was one of the worst decades to watch indian bowling!

    And that binny will give a rest and inspire our bowlers to overseas wins is again baseless and laughable to say the least.i could not stop laughing

    It does not address the basic problem-our pacers are either average or cannot develop into better bowlers.they are taking indian supporters time and again with this useless idea!

  • John on July 9, 2014, 8:37 GMT

    The English media started this talk and now it's caught the attention of the team management too. They did the same in 2011 when they questioned why R.P.Singh was not in the team and immediately he was flown over as replacement for Zaheer and we all know the rest. Think we should go with the original plan into the first match and then see what happens.

  • Avinash on July 9, 2014, 8:12 GMT

    @Ignatius - Binny is way better than Sanjay Bangar. The stats may not show even after the tour, but still Binny is a much more aggressive player than Bangar.

    I have doubts about three places in the team - Binny, Gambhir, Aaron/Pankaj Singh. I hope both Binny and Jadeja play and Gambhir is considered as one of the openers, i'm not sure why is everyone talking about Vijay and Dhawan opening. Also, all this talk of Ishant being the spearhead....I hope the team management sees the merit on playing Aaron or Pankaj Singh instead of Ishant

  • Senthil on July 9, 2014, 8:03 GMT

    Gambhir's last seven innings abroad in Tests: 13, 0, 83, 31, 14, 34, 3. Total 178 (With plenty of experience) Vijay's last seven innings abroad in Tests: 39, 97, 6, 26, 13, 2, 7. Total 190 (With much less experience)

    Gambhir's last seven domestic Test innings: 35, 45, 4, 65, 60, 40, 37. Total 286

    Vijay's last seven domestic Test innings: 167, 153, 26, 57, 11, 26, 43. Total 483.

    No reason for self appointed selectors to get so excited about selecting Gambhir over Vijay.

  • Dummy4 on July 9, 2014, 6:54 GMT

    Any daring change would be welcome!! It is time India did something like that.. after years of waiting, lethal fast bowlers haven't ever shown up.. the fact that Ajit Agarkar himself was far better than Ishant ever was shows how bad Ishant has been.. Shami was hailed when he took that 10 wicket haul.. he has been missing as well since.. only discipline and persistence will get these bowlers wickets.. Heart says India but brain says Cook and Bell might just get back to their double tons..

  • mayuresh on July 9, 2014, 6:14 GMT

    my team would be gambhir pujara to open rahane kohli dhoni and rohit to follow biny ashwin(5 left handers in england) shami bhuvi ishant sharma/aron

    if india drop gambhir and rohit i think india batting would be ordinary. if vijay and dhawan would open than its sure that we will lose the match.

    so pick 1 of them or no 1 so that our batting and bowling line up would be equally supported in bowling rohit and kohli will ball some overs and in batting binny and aswhin will help.

    rohit is the only one who can bowl some off spin among all other batsman in the team .

    whats your view ?

  • Dummy4 on July 9, 2014, 4:52 GMT

    I'm not sure how many will agree, I see Binny with the likes of Sanjay Bangar. When India toured England in 2001-2002 season he made a real difference with bat when he went in as an opener in headingley test and struck a 68 in a crucial partnership with Dravid and with the ball took 2 crucial wickets to set-up a rare innings victory away from home. No one thought that Sanjay could do it including me. I hope India grooms Binny well and i hope Binny does a Sanjay in any one of those tests. Like Dhoni says - you have to work around with what you have. In for an exiting series. Good luck India, Play well Binny

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