Dhoni masterminds bouncer attack
He looked the same when he entered the press-conference room. He made familiar jokes. He seemed the same man, not too overjoyed by a big Test win. Still, this MS Dhoni was a new MS Dhoni. Having completed India's second Test win at Lord's, after getting sent in on a green pitch, Dhoni revealed how he had to step in and get his bowlers to execute what seemed like the right plan to him. He also said it was high time he intervened.
Dhoni had to convince Ishant Sharma to bowl bouncers at the England batsmen after they had blunted India's plan A for almost the whole first session. The result was a five-wicket collapse against the short ball in half an hour, three falling to the pull or the hook and two when left-hand batsmen fended rising deliveries.
"To start off with, it was very difficult to convince him [Ishant]," Dhoni said. "When he first came on to bowl, I asked him to bowl short, and he turned the other way. Then I set the field for him so that he couldn't even think of bowling up. So the strategy was to give him a field so he is forced to bowl the length that I wanted him to bowl.
"It worked, and once he got Moeen's wicket [with the last ball before lunch] he was eager enough to try that attack for a consistent period of time. He works really hard on his fitness and on his bowling and doesn't shy away from bowling long spells. Whenever you ask him to bowl, whatever situation, he gives his 100%. There is no reason why he shouldn't test this line of attack. He will have to bowl a high number of overs outside India so he will have to bowl short because he has the height so he can exploit the bounce and put pressure on batsmen. He can add this to his armoury because it is definitely difficult to convince him."
Dhoni spoke about how he had let his bowlers be, but of late he and Duncan Fletcher had begun to more than nudge them in the right direction. "Duncan definitely wants to try everything, and he wants the bowlers to bowl short also. We have been trying to convince our bowlers to bowl a few bouncers. At times we had this problem in South Africa and in New Zealand that we bowled the first 10 overs without bowling a single bouncer. And you go and ask them and they say it was swinging enough to get the batsmen out.
"At times it's not the bouncer that gets you the wicket but what happens after the bouncer that can actually get you wickets. At times it becomes difficult to make them understand even if you are saying it in simple words. Cricket is a complex sport. Ishant never wanted to bowl round the wicket. He was like, 'No it's going that way. So I want to bowl over.' So what happens is when you go through that phase it opens that sector for you. Your armoury increases. We don't want to force ourselves on the bowlers, but now in the past four or five games I definitely think their view to bouncers and short stuff has opened up. Now they are using it quite consistently."
Dhoni's comments may not show the bowlers' intelligence in great light, but it is a welcome change from a captain who has been accused of being too passive in the field.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo