India in England 2014 July 26, 2014

India in favourable, but unfamiliar position

It is not often that India go into an away Test with a lead, but following their important win at Lord's, the onus is now on MS Dhoni to ensure that the team is not overwhelmed by unrealistic expectations

Play 03:08
'In a five-match series a 1-0 lead is not big' - Dhoni

The first two Tests of this series have been matches that Indian teams typically play away from home. The good Indian teams, that is.

The first Test has always been the key; they rarely come back from a poor first one. In 2007, in England, they hung in for a draw in the first, and went on to win the series. Incidentally, every time India have not lost the first Test in England, they have won the series.

The second Test was almost a template for Indian overseas wins: bat first, weather the storm, put runs on the board, sneak the first-innings wickets without much damage, score big in the third innings when time is best for batting, and mount the pressure in the final innings.

Now comes foreign territory for this team - a lead in a Test series outside Asia for the first time since 2011, but the ones against West Indies and before that against New Zealand, were not entirely unexpected. This one is. Like it was in 2007 in England, or in 2006-07 in South Africa before that, or the West Indies in 2002. India won only one of those three series.

When MS Dhoni starts knocking on wood in superstition at press conferences, you know the team is packing a suitcase for a place they haven't been. Asked about M Vijay's solid batting at the top of the order, Dhoni went looking for the wood on the table in front of him so he doesn't tempt fate.

Dhoni said he hoped Vijay stays in the present and does not think too much about runs, which he will get anyway if he stays at the wicket for long enough by the virtue of being a good striker of the ball. That is an advice India need too. Stay in the present. Do not think too much about whether they want to sit on the lead or be desperate to add to it. These questions, when not asked regularly enough of you, can mess with your head. Things start happening too fast at such time. In theory, Dhoni is just the man you need to slow them down.

"I feel that in a five-match series a 1-0 lead is not big," Dhoni said. "And what's crucial is to pick the right team and move forward. We are not thinking about any tagline this time, 1-0 up, level the series etc. We need to pick the right team, and for that we need to judge the nature of the wicket. We are more focusing on all these areas at this time."

The right combination this time for India is Rohit Sharma coming in for Stuart Binny. It has been an experiment well worth it - seeing how Dhoni goes at No. 6, showing general intent with an extra bowler, and also seeing how much Binny can do as a second-string bowler in terms of keeping others fresh - but India now feel they have not had enough use for the Karnataka allrounder.

There have not been any public comments to drive a psychological screw into the struggling Alastair Cook's head. At every press conference, Dhoni is asked about Cook; on each occasion he says he does not think too much about the opposition

"I know there is a famous saying 'why fix something when it is not broken'," Dhoni said, "But you have to realise that others are trying to catch up with you when you are doing well. So the important thing is that we will see the wicket and decide what the best combination is."

With Binny bowling only 10 overs over two innings in helpful conditions, the choice was now down to between Rohit and R Ashwin.

Ashwin is arguably a better batsman that Binny, but on a greenish pitch that is reputed to be one of the quickest in England, India have all but moved back to orthodoxy. It is possible Dhoni realised it was a bit risky to have such a thin batting line-up. At any rate, it should be up to England to make more of the running.

India have shown they are happy in their bubble for most of the series. There have not been any public comments to drive a psychological screw into the struggling Alastair Cook's head. At every press conference, Dhoni is asked about Cook; on each occasion he says he does not think too much about the opposition.

Dhoni knows Cook's abilities only too well. He had Cook's side down 1-0 in India, too, with three Tests to go, but ended up losing the series 2-1. There are three more Tests to go here; Dhoni must be secretly knocking on wood thinking of Cook's form too. India know they are not a side that can blow away oppositions in these conditions. Vijay and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who keep chipping away like worker ants, have emerged as India's new prototype players.

Their two most aggressive players - Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli - have not fired yet. They know tactical attrition is their best bet here, which is why they are unlikely to get carried away after one win. Vijay will have to painstakingly leave balls all over again, Bhuvneshwar will have to bowl that channel just outside off to Cook again, and Dhoni will have to know again what is the right moment to strike with aggression.

There is a long way to go to the place this side has not been. U2 sang that such places have to be believed to be seen. India will want to believe only in the next step.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on July 27, 2014, 9:11 GMT

    Shikar Dhawan is not worth to be playing in a Test match, so as Stuawart Binny. Better to try Gautam Gahambir and Wradhaman saha and if the bowling line up need to be strengthened, its time to use Varun Aaron's abilities too. Dhoni should consider himself a wicket keeper who can bat and consider batting at 8.

  • Cricinfouser on July 27, 2014, 8:39 GMT

    If India require swingbowling allrounder then where is Praveen kumar. In last tour when English batsman were in full form Praveen performed so well.He was the best indian bowler.Ideal team against this English team with six lefties would have been Jaffer,Vijay,pujara,Kohli,Rahane,Ashwin,Rishi Dhawan,Dhoni,Bhuvi,Praveen and ishant

  • Nikhil on July 27, 2014, 8:35 GMT

    well its simple..if india bats first..bring in Ashwin for Rohit will not score more than Ashwin in 1st innings and Ashwin will play big role on last innings,,If India bats second..bring in Rohit, and put a big score on board

  • nitin on July 27, 2014, 7:51 GMT

    Actually Rohit comes in for Dhawan

  • Dummy4 on July 27, 2014, 7:26 GMT

    Dhoni should opt for fifth bowler instead of adding sixth batsman. He should not test the limit of his luck. He needs to be impartial in selection. Good fifth bowler either spinner or pacer will make winning much easier when Indian tail is doing very good in scoring runs. Bhuvaneshar is bowling alrounder and assert to team. Dhoni should not save himself through batting at seven. He should bat at six and leave anything outside off. India should not waste golden opportunity of beating England in their home.

  • Dummy4 on July 27, 2014, 7:22 GMT

    For 3rd test India should bring in Ashwin for Binny & continue to go with 5 bowlers which has worked Rohit has to wait..Far too much has been said about India's Lords win..of course india played well & Rahane merited the MOM award equally with his 109 & saving India blushes in 1st inng coming at 148/7 on a green wkt..from which India took hold of the match with Bhuvi, Vijay ,Jadeja shining & Ishant giving the knockout punch with his bouncers...However I do not agree with Ravi Shastri considering this the best India Test win overseas ever..Ishant did bowl agressively but was helped by some aweful shot making by Eng batsmen..who are still going through the Mitchell Johnson effect...indeed its Johnson last winter who has been solely responsible for Englands current state of affairs ..His pace bombardment had knocked out few English careers..& now Sri Lanka & India are reaping from that....Indias abroad wins at Perth Adelaide, South Africa merits lot more credit than the Lords win

  • sree on July 27, 2014, 5:57 GMT

    Picking Rohit for Binny sounds selection by accident. As if Rohit missed the team bus and Binny was asked to make 11. Dhoni started the tour playing for his critics showcasing his dramatic aggression. Luckily he got a win credit to Indian bowlers. Having shut critics for the tour, he is back to his favorite ways and players. Binny a mediocre player as the world knows, but deep down one feels he has not been given enough time or overs to show is abilities regardless of his potential. Had he bowled some 60 overs and in critical junctures, one can assess his skills. But Dhoni picked him and gave 20 odd overs and dropped him. What good? Just to conveniently prove "I have tried now you see" type. His old favorite Rohit will be back at 6 under hiding space of 1-0 win. And Dhoni retains his safest place of 7 where whatever he does is a win-win. If Dhoni has genuine intent, he should give the role of Binny to Bhuvi and bring Ashwin or Varun and go for the kill. Ashwin could be balanced choice.

  • Dummy4 on July 27, 2014, 5:36 GMT

    I would love to see Dhoni being aggressive and bringing in Ashwin and Varun Aaron in place of Shikar Dhawan and Binny. But it is not gonna happen. Now that he is 1 up, Dhoni will go back to being defensive, which is why he is bringing in eternal favourite Rohit Sharma. Cook will find the initiative handed back to him on a platter.

  • Steven on July 27, 2014, 5:07 GMT

    I know India are only going to make the one change but personally to get rohit ashwin and Aaron in I would put rahane to open rohit at five dhoni six jadeja seven ashwin eight kumar Aaron ishant to follow that would. Be the ideal team for me to cover all bases

  • Pankaj on July 27, 2014, 5:02 GMT

    @Sira - the nail is hit right on the uncomfortable spot. As such if India get in with a top-heavy batting side it could surely mean they want to replicate Leeds 2002 - get a 600 plus score and aim for an innings win. Having said that, it's a strategy which has a marginal chance. More likely that Dhoni wants to bat England out of the Test. And this in front of Cook's supine captaincy!! What will he do if perchance India go up 1-0 against Australia? Fill the side with 10 batsmen and himself?

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