Bowlers allow Dhoni to breathe again
It's about 2.40pm on a sultry hot day at Lord's. The sun is out; the food and the cakes and the drinks have flowed; and the mild breeze is threatening to send the stands into naps. But there is some intense Test cricket to follow.
On a pitch that has eased out considerably since the day one that England wasted, India's quicks are showing the hosts how to bowl on this pitch. They have been full, at the stumps, and have given England only a few easy runs, who are 85 for 3 in 37 overs.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar has been exceptional in that there have hardly been any ball to easily leave. He has used the slope well, bowling outswingers to right-hand batsmen before testing them with the other one once in a while. He has been doing the same to left-hand batsmen: take it away, take it away, then bring one in. Just the threat of one coming back in had Alastair Cook pushing at one and nicking behind. Sam Robson edged short of the cordon, was dropped, and yet didn't have enough patience to outlast the nagging new-ball spell of Bhuvneshwar, who has come came back after lunch to feast on Ian Bell's uncertain state of mind. After bowling 17 overs in well under three hours, for 34 runs and three wickets, Bhuvneshwar needs a rest.
There has been decent support from the other end. Mohammed Shami has bowled a few down the leg side, but if one bowler doesn't, how will the batsmen score a run? Ishant Sharma has generated some heat, and has asked questions of the right-handed Bell making the ball hold its line against the slope. The left-hand batsman Gary Ballance has put him off a little, but he has contributed to Bell's fall. But now we are getting into the stage where India usually let their intensity dip. Bhuvneshwar is tired, the ball has lost its shine, the pitch is easing out in the afternoon, and India need some control.
This is also time when Stuart Binny, their big hunch in this series, is about to be introduced. This next half hour has the potential to make or break this Test. England can easily run away with it if Binny is as innocuous as at Trent Bridge. But a tight spell can leave the other bowlers fresh for a pressure-filled burst before tea. On comes Binny, bowls full and slow, Ballance goes after him and gets away with a thick edge. At the end of the over drinks come on to the field. A moment to get your thoughts together, a moment to wonder if you are in control, a moment to perhaps question your own wisdom in sticking with Binny.
Just after drinks, Binny bowls again. The second ball of the over is a good delivery, pitched up outside off, shaping to swing in, and then holding its line after pitching, Ballance plays at it, and edges it. It goes to MS Dhoni's left and Shikhar Dhawan's right. It is high enough. Dhoni takes half a step towards it and lets it go. Dhawan is surprised and reacts late. Before you know Ballance has got four more runs.
This is a horrible miss. This is clearly Dhoni's catch, but he doesn't go for it. Nor is this the first time he has done that. He is an exceptional wicketkeeper standing up to the stumps, grabbing thick edges, making stumpings without a reverse follow-through at all. But standing back he has this annoying habit of not going for the catch between him and first slip. VVS Laxman has seen this often, today is Dhawan's turn. It seems he goes by the height of the ball, not its line. Earlier in the day he caught Cook, an offering that was wider than this but wouldn't have carried to first slip. This one is sailing at a comfortable height so he lets it go for Dhawan, although that can be no excuse.
This is, as they usually are, a keeper's catch, but what is Dhawan doing here? The best slippers are usually seen diving even when the wicketkeeper takes the catch in front of them. You have to expect, nay want, the ball to come to you. Here Dhawan is caught by surprise. He doesn't react at all. This is a huge moment in what is likely to be tight Test on a testing pitch. Over their last two tours, India have squandered winning positions because they tend to switch off. This is becoming a big problem: India just don't stay intense for long enough in Tests. The slips are stacking up.
Ballance capitalises on the mistake and scores a hundred. Moeen Ali, positive but not reckless, adds 98 with him. But here is the difference. India remain disciplined when it would have been easy to start thinking "Here we go again." The first square-cut boundary arrives 19 overs later, at the end of the 57th. Dhoni remains aggressive even as the partnership builds. He has seen there is turn on the pitch, and pulls M Vijay out of the hat. He feels under no pressure to justify Binny's selection and overbowl him. The fielding remains intense too.
Usually India's bowlers are ridiculed for letting Dhoni down. On a day that Dhoni has let them down, they kept their spirits up, didn't let England absolutely run away with it, and come back with two wickets just before stumps. This has been India's best bowling day without Zaheer Khan or spinners playing a lead role in a long time. It has come on a pitch made to order for the home team, and it has left India with yet another chance to post that elusive away Test win. Those who are used to India's bowlers letting the team down will need to sit down and have a seat belt on before even imagining what if Dhoni had taken that catch?
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo