England v India, 2nd Investec Test, Lord's, 5th day July 21, 2014

Dhoni decides, Ishant provides

MS Dhoni and Ishant Sharma reversed India's customary defensive strategies, on day five at Lord's, to help them to a landmark Test win

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Ishant bowls short, England fall short

It is just before 1pm. The ghosts of Johannesburg and Wellington are warming up. There has not been a wicket the whole session. Joe Root and Moeen Ali have added 84. The pitch is not green anymore. It is not Bhuvneshwar Kumar's pitch anymore. Mohammed Shami has wobbled the ball a bit, but the two young England batsmen have been resolute. Ravindra Jadeja has kept the batsmen honest - they dare not play an adventurous shot with the balls landing in the rough one after the other - but where is the wicket? When nothing else works, MS Dhoni goes to Ishant Sharma. They need someone who can hit that pitch hard now to exploit the uneven bounce. It is time for Ishant then, the man with the worst record for anyone who has played 50 Tests or more, the man who never shies away from the dirty work. Lucky Ishant. Unlucky Ishant. The only Ishant.

England see an opportunity here. Root gets stuck into Ishant. The first ball is a loosener. A long half-volley. Four. Shane Warne doing commentary wonders why the fast bowlers do not bowl the bouncer as a loosener if they need a loosener. Dhoni has started wondering why not bowl bouncers here. Later in the over Root drives loosely, but through the gap. Four more. Then Ishant bowls short and wide, and Root guides him through gully for four. Root's fifty has come up. The target is now under 150. Hello Wanderers. Hello Basin.

Dhoni bowls Jadeja. Gets a quiet over in. Ishant is persisted with for the last over before lunch. He is asked to bowl bouncers. He does not really feel comfortable doing it. This is England, isn't it, where you are supposed to bowl full. Dhoni tells him, don't worry, even a top edge caught in the deep is a wicket. As good as caught in the slips. We need wickets...

Just to make sure he gives Ishant a field where he cannot bowl full. Leg gully, short leg, short midwicket, two men deep on the hook. Dhoni has stepped in. This is the Dhoni we do not know well. This is the Dhoni who has possibly been passive twice. He does not want to be now.

Ishant digs one in. Root ducks it. He has to bowl one more now. Will he? Will he ever? This is right at Root's throat. Root fends at it. What a welcome sight for anyone willing to bowl short and fast on the final day. The next one is into the ribs. Root wears it. Gets off the strike with the leg-bye, which should not really be, because he has let it hit him as opposed to taking evasive action.

Ishant has Moeen on strike now. The next two short deliveries are down the leg side. One so far down he has to pull out from the pull shot. The last ball of the session. If England survive this ball, no matter what how ungainly they look doing it, they go to lunch with a huge psychological boost. India can start questioning themselves. Can we really ever win a Test away from home? Ishant needs to get this one absolutely right. No easy leave here. He bowls one at the throat. With a plan telegraphed to him, it should be easy for Moeen to get under this. He does not. He cannot sway out of the way either. This is a poor way of playing at this. He gloves it. Moeen's mind has switched off. India have turned the session around.

Forty minutes later. India want to bounce England some more. Matt Prior has shown this summer that he does not like it up there. There's only 146 to get, though. This can unravel fast if the bowlers get it wrong. How often have they got it wrong in the past? And if they get it wrong, how long before Dhoni feels the need to defend? The good thing is, there are only four overs to go to the new ball. Dhoni has a definite target in sight.

Shami, though, bowls soft bouncers. He is pulled away for 10 runs in the first over after lunch. Surely this is not working? Only 136 to get now. Dhoni hates to concede runs. Surely this cannot go on for too long? Think of the time when he sent back a deep point when an injured Jacques Kallis reverse-swept Harbhajan Singh in Cape Town in 2010-11. That game was headed only one way after that: away from India.

Ishant is allowed to do it for another over, though. The first ball is short and wide. Easy four. Ishant still does not seem convinced about it, but he is the man who can actually bowl the short ball well. He is quick, he is tall. Dhoni leaves him no choice. Two men on the hook, just one slip for the new batsman, a short leg and a short midwicket. Ishant goes for another four as Prior drags a pull from wide outside off and hits the last ball of the over through deep midwicket. The target is now only 126. Only twenty-five per remaining wicket. They are knocking them off by the 10s.

The old Dhoni would have spread the field all over by now. He is not doing it now. He is, as Warne says, prepared to lose in order to win. He knows only too well, thanks to his own batsmen, that you cannot continue hooking with total control of it. He has now put one more man in the deep. A deep fine leg, a deep square leg and a deep midwicket. He is not worried about the runs. He just wants Ishant to eliminate every other shot. And this is no mickey-mouse boundary where you can feel confident of hooking for a six in such a tense situation.

Eightieth over then. Possibly the last before India attack with the new ball. First ball. Pulled down. Single. Second ball. No-ball. Pulled down. Single. Two more similar singles. The target is now 121. Ishant tries the bluff. Bowls full. Prior is equal to it. Two more balls, and India might go back to bowling length with the new ball. Root and Prior have gained some sort of momentum and confidence. If they attack the new ball and it flies away, this game could be over quickly.

Down to two more balls from Ishant. Dhoni goes up to him. Asks him to go round the stumps. Ishant does not like it. Dhoni insists. Ishant goes for it. And he gets this one right. Over the shoulder and across Prior's body. This is not easy to control. And M Vijay judges a catch nicely at deep midwicket. In a workhorsely manner, Ishant has kept India in it again. And look at Dhoni leap for joy while running towards his team-mates. His plan has come off. He hardly ever does this. Give away runs to buy wickets, or show such emotion. If Johannesburg and Wellington are giant blimps hanging over wherever India play, they have been pricked. It is only a matter of time now.

And now that Dhoni is in control, he begins to do his funky thing. He refuses the new ball. Because Jadeja provides him control with the old ball. Ishant is hurting, but he can go on. He can smell the win, how can you take the ball out of his hand? It would be unfair too. Ben Stokes comes, Ben Stokes pulls, Ben Stokes goes out. Root pulls. Root finds deep backward square. There is no "c Dhoni b Ishant" on the scoreboard but these wickets are all conceived by Dhoni and taken by Ishant.

In his last 18 legal deliveries, Ishant has taken four wickets for 17 runs. He is in pain. He is on his haunches. He is also on the honours board. And two wickets from a win at Lord's. Dhoni tells him there are three more Tests to go. He does not want him injured. If there is the slightest bit of niggle anywhere, he need not bowl another over. Ishant is having none of it. He bowls another over. Then another. Finally the literal c Dhoni b Ishant makes its poetic appearance as Stuart Broad edges a short delivery down leg. At 23-6-74-7, Ishant's job is over. Now, he walks off the field.

Jadeja finishes the match with bête noir James Anderson's run-out. Ishant is not on the field. Players have had their huddle. They have taken stumps as souvenirs. Jadeja has even shaken Anderson's hand and tapped his shoulder. Only when the players make it to just outside the pavilion does Ishant step out. Shami holds the match ball in his palm as if in a cup. Smiling that toothy smile that he has never let go of, Ishant accepts it gleefully. Anyone who does not feel happy for this much-maligned cricketer has a rock for a heart.

Dhoni has taken the back seat somewhere. He has been positive from the moment he has landed in England. Batting himself at six, persisting with attacking fields even when runs are flowing, getting into the bowlers' ears, getting them to do things he wants as opposed to letting matches drift. Long may he remain.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • RAJARAMAN on July 26, 2014, 9:52 GMT

    I am now worried when the roles may be reversed in the coming tests meaning India batting last ... India must be prepared to for bouncer barrage from England in a similar situation ...

  • vas on July 25, 2014, 12:24 GMT

    You don't necessarily have to be Johnson's high speed to take wickets off bouncers. During his short balls spell Ishant cleverly varied the lengths of his short balls so that some reached waist high and some above the eye level. Even the lines he bowled varied. You could see the effort he was putting in. Broad diflected one which was on the leg side. Only Moeen's was directed at his body and he got in a tangle. Root, Prior and Stokes executed the hittable balls poorly. Hooks and Pulls are high risk shots and should be played judiciously according to the situation. The situation England was in there was no need to play those shots.

  • Samir on July 24, 2014, 6:05 GMT

    I have suggested good changes for team england for 3rd test and agree with michael waughen, atleast to introduce but not a captain to eoin morgan-solid gye.For team india, quick changes are: 1. out kohli, 2. out dhawan 3. out binny. replacement, gambhir, rohit and varun arun or ashvin. I dont know why virat is there as test and odi vice captain!!!!, looks like sunil gawaskar has too much faith on him!!!! better not to listen him!!!

  • Dummy4 on July 23, 2014, 18:53 GMT

    Fine team effort by young Iindia guns to bt England at Lords after losing the toss & batting on a greentop...Bhuvi, Rahane,Jadeja Vijay & Ishant were the stars..Rahane's 100 was crucial- a fine inngs which will set up his career now..Bhuvi was superb with ball & bat.& Ishant's lively spell finally won the match...however I still reserve my comments on this Indian team which can still get better..& not to take away anything from India..England's demise in last 1 yr is attributed to one man- Michelle Johnson..Eng team is yet to recover from his bombarding pace last winter..they ve lost 0-5 in ashes ,then 0-1 to Srilanka at home & hence are woefully short on confidence..Ishant's spell was superb but does not compare anywhere near Johnsons unplayable fast bowling in last Ashes which knocked over few careers..at lords some eng batters played terrible shots vs Ishant..hence dont agree with Ravi shastri's comments that this is indias best overseas test win...wins v SA,Aus carried more weight.

  • nishant on July 23, 2014, 14:47 GMT

    This column is very well written. Kudos to MR.SIDDHARTH MONGA & to the indian team as well. SID has very elegantly written this column & it was a great delight to read it as much as to see the heroics of our brave indian team. This is the win we badly needed and this win must have also silenced many critics of Dhoni. But this win was not only dhoni's display of a masterpiece captaincy but also each and every team member. Keep it up guys. really proud of you.

  • manju on July 23, 2014, 12:04 GMT

    guys who are criticizing Ishant sharma on the basis of law of averages and deciding that he will be performing poorly must take a look at this stats: He has 25 wickets in last four test matches with avg of 26. and Strike rate of 46, I am sure he will add at least 15 more wickets to his kitty by the end of England series.

  • Android on July 23, 2014, 11:59 GMT

    loved the write up

  • Muthuvel on July 23, 2014, 10:39 GMT

    Ishant Sharma is not the only man built, there is Pankaj Singh who is 6'6'+ and there is Pandey who is around 6' 4" both are similar pace as Ishant and can bowl good bouncers. Replace Binny with Pankaj.

  • kiran on July 23, 2014, 9:17 GMT

    Good to see Dhoni started applying himself in tests too as in ODIs. The word 'Captaincy' was never used so frequently during the era of our earlier captains. We use to seldom hear about captains' strategy in those days. Because Dhoni has strategies, people started talking on this matter, and moreover commenting on he taking interest in one format and not in other format etc. I don't remember any win (in any format ) in earlier days, which was talked about in the context of a strategy being employed by Dravids and Gangulies etc. We heard on those lines about Mike Brairly of England in the past. So all must admit that MSD is a strategical captain above many others. Captains (both non-stratigical) can go on playing the game as it comes and based on impact of individual performances, one team can beat other, if time permits. This is what the game is about generally. If MSD finds himself as an attacking batter in test ( as what he can be ) then we will have a new sehwag at no 6.

  • Android on July 23, 2014, 7:53 GMT

    @Jamie actually unlike you i also gave my opinion but backed it up with facts which make it a comment worthy of a cricket forum instead of a useless hate comment.Like i said learn to apperciate good cricket other wise you are not a cricket fan just a troll or hater and thats not my opinion,its truth.