Dhoni defends four-bowler strategy
When Bob Dylan asked who killed Davey Moore, the answer was everyone involved with boxing. Yet they didn't want a finger pointed at them. MS Dhoni, after enduring a Test where everything went wrong, didn't mind pointing that finger. In Ishant Sharma's absence, the bowlers were flat. Forget 20, they didn't look like picking up 10 wickets. India's shoddy slip catching contributed to debutant Pankaj Singh ending up wicketless. The opening partnership is yet to add 50 outside Asia. The middle order got in and fell to soft dismissals. Mooen Ali taking six wickets against accomplished players of spin was the perfect riposte to Ishant's bouncing out of England's batsmen at Lord's.
"That's what international cricket is all about," Dhoni said. "It was not like we were expecting England to win. We knew they would come back strongly at us, and for us also it was a new challenge to keep the momentum going after the Lord's win. This Test showed some areas where we have to improve.
"To win Test matches, we need to take 20 wickets. But in this particular game we were not able to take even 10 wickets, and that was a setback to a certain extent. I thought our batsmen played the fast bowlers better, but we allowed Moeen to bowl his line and length. There was considerable amount of wear and tear on the pitch that went his way, and there were a lot of close-in fielders too. I just felt that we could have been a bit more positive against him."
Dhoni admitted the first two Tests might have taken a lot out of his bowlers. The casualty list included Ishant, who has been ruled out of the Old Trafford Test, and Bhuvneshwar Kumar also looked down on intensity on a pitch that didn't suit his put-it-there accurate bowling.
"I think Bhuvi seemed a bit tired," Dhoni said. "He came back nicely after that first spell, but I thought he was slightly on the shorter side. He got the right length in the first two Tests, but here he was slightly short. Apart from that I am quite happy with the effort put in by the fast bowlers. It was a different kind of wicket, where you have to hit the surface hard to get some purchase. That's where I found Pankaj very impressive. He is a tall guy and got a fair amount of bounce and was unlucky not to get a few wickets. Overall I am happy with him."
In the first innings, everyone in India's top seven, except Shikhar Dhawan, reached 20, but the top-score remained 54. Dhoni was obviously disappointed, but wasn't too fussed. "It will become a bit [of a] concern once it becomes repetitive," Dhoni said. "Let's hope that it doesn't become a habit. But the good thing is that the batsmen are getting good starts and hopefully they will convert those starts into big innings. Getting starts is more difficult that converting starts. Hopefully, they will come back strong."
Rohit Sharma slugging Moeen to mid-off five minutes before tea on the fourth day drew a lot of criticism, but he also had Dhoni's sympathy given India didn't want Moeen to settle. "You will go for your shots and get out at times," Dhoni said. "I am not really bothered about it because the attitude is more important. I think that's why he tried to step out and play Mooen. But you also have to choose your timing because if you have five or 10 minutes remaining for the tea or lunch then slightly curb your instincts. But overall I am happy with the way he [Rohit] went out to play his shots."
Dhoni rubbished the suggestion that picking Rohit and deviating from the new five-bowler strategy was a defensive plan to sit on the lead while Ishant missed the match. "[If playing extra bowlers is positive], then to be positive you should play eight bowlers in the next game," Dhoni said. "You also need to see the combination. You can have a third man and deep point, and that could be an aggressive option against someone like [Virender] Sehwag, and for other batsmen it may not be. It's all about how you look at it.
"In the first couple of games we played with that extra bowler, who was part of the side. But we never really used him to that extent, giving him only eight to 10 overs. That's the reason we thought of making our batting stronger by getting Rohit in. At the same time, he could also give us those eight to 10 overs or more. That was the thinking behind it, and we need to go back and think what's needed to be done according to the wicket for the next two Test matches."
Dhoni defended the opening combination, which could suggest another chance for Dhawan. "Vijay is batting well at the moment, and Shikhar is finding his tune now. It is not easy to come and score runs at every time, you need to work hard sometimes for your runs. The English bowlers were bowling well, especially [James] Anderson. They know exactly where to bowl, which line and length, in their home conditions. It will be a challenge for Shikhar to score runs here. In international cricket, the bowlers will try to find out your weak spot all the time. You need to learn to survive that and try to score runs."
Dhoni expects a stern test of character and fitness in the last two games, which will be played over a period of 13 days. "We have not played a five-match series before, but England have played five-match series earlier. So it will be a test of character for all of us, and our fitness also."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo