Batting failures hurting India - Dhoni
MS Dhoni, India's captain, conceded that the failure of his specialist batsmen had been the biggest reason for England taking a 2-1 series lead with one Test left in the five-match series. Dhoni said that India lost the Old Trafford Test virtually in the first hour of the match, when India were reduced to an abysmal 8 for 4 after Dhoni had elected to bat.
Shortly after lunch, they were six down, and even though Dhoni, in the company of R Ashwin, put up a brave fight India could just manage a paltry 152. On Saturday, India once again folded easily in less than two sessions, to give Alastair Cook's team the advantage going into the final Test at The Oval, which starts on Friday. Importantly, after their thrilling victory at Lord's, India have failed to win a session convincingly.
"What is important is to put runs on the board," Dhoni said. "To some extent, Lord's and the performance of the eight, nine, ten and eleven so far in the series camouflaged the question of the top order not performing. But when you are playing with five bowlers, the fifth bowler actually has scored more runs for us. That actually puts pressure on, whatever the reason may be. May be a few of the batsmen are having a lean period at the same time. But overall we will have to put more runs on the board so that the bowlers can get the opposition out."
According to Dhoni, the failure of his batsmen in this Test was more exposed because the lower order, which had rallied in the first three Tests, also failed in Manchester. "First few Test matches, the performance of our batters got camouflaged," Dhoni said. "Stuart [Binny] got runs in the first Test match along with [Mohammed] Shami, Bhuvi [Bhuvneshwar Kumar] and others. No one really asked the question, we are playing with one batter less so is it up to the batsmen to take the responsibility. That trend continued forward with the batting department. It is just that the lower order did not contribute in this Test match so it seems we have not scored runs."
Dhoni said the India batsmen have to learn to play time and force the opposition to bowl to them rather than go chasing the ball outside their comfort zone. "Once you see off the first 20-25 overs, when the ball is hard and new, it gets relatively better for the batsmen to bat. You just have to pull the bowler towards you rather than going outside off and looking for the big shot. If you can look to push them to bowl to you actually you can control the swing much better and you can play your strokes. That is something to an extent we lacked.
"Also the fact we lost six wickets in the first half an hour and that had a very big impact on the game. A lot things had consequences in this Test match. Hopefully we will get the learning out of it and move into the next one which I feel will be very important to us."
Astonishingly, India batted a total of 89.4 overs across two innings compared to England's 105.3 overs. Once again Dhoni said the onus was on his batsmen to stand up and deliver especially since India were playing only six batsmen, himself included. "The batting department will have to improve, especially since we are playing a batter less," Dhoni said. "That extra bowler is actually contributing both with ball and bat. Still the top five or six batters will have to get more runs to make the bowlers feel more comfortable."
Dhoni defended playing six batsmen and an extra bowler, saying he did not have a choice. Asked as to whether it was now time to drop Ravindra Jadeja, who has failed consistently with both ball and bat barring his spirited half-century in the Lord's Test victory, Dhoni disagreed.
"Again the problem is who do you have to replace him?" Dhoni said. "Again you will fall back on the same thing of going with an extra batter and not having that fifth bowler when you really need him. That is how Jadeja plays. The more he plays the better he will get. We are hoping that it happens soon. We have seen glimpses of it. He will have to back himself to play the same kind of cricket. That is something that will give him the confidence. Hopefully he will keep hitting the ball."
In Manchester, Jadeja managed just one wicket on a pitch that offered good bounce. Moeen Ali, England's allegedly part-time spinner, struck four times to raise his series tally to 19 wickets.
Dhoni would not be forced to be drawn into comparisons, but pointed out that the biggest factor in Moeen's success was his persistence of maintaining length and lines. "He is quite a consistent bowler. He keeps pitching in the same areas. He is quite good and uses the drift," Dhoni said. "Why can't we copy him? It is a very difficult thing. He has his own trajectory. He keeps bowling in one area and is quite willing to bowl that way. He is very persistent with his lengths. The odd ball turns and the others are just straight. He wants to keep it very tight. And if you want to take him on you can try your luck otherwise he may get a wicket. Our bowlers are different. They have their own way of bowling. It is not easy to copy a bowler."
Moeen's success has raised the point about Indians being better players of spin and whether that is actually true. Again in this Test, the India middle order tried to charge him or play aggressively but failed.
Dhoni did not find any fault with that method. "It is important to be positive. We will lose a few wickets. At the same time we will have to put pressure back on him. If in doing that you lose a few wickets that is still good for you because that pushes the opposition to use their fast bowlers more. That is something we will have to follow. Pujara got a tough decision but others he bowled well to get them out."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo