Dhoni quiet on future as Test captain
MS Dhoni has seen India lose 13 and win one of their last 17 overseas Tests. Yet it is impossible to get him to say or do something that is not practical in today's cricket. When he spoke about how his team was inexperienced - he had numbers of caps between the England players as opposed to India's to prove that - and how their batsmen hardly get to play in English conditions, he was asked if county cricket might help. Dhoni knew all the constraints that make it a stillborn idea.
"That's an interesting one because there are only a few players who can play that," Dhoni said. "The others will be busy with other cricket. If you see the calendar we play from January till December. Maybe our climate is such that it supports us playing cricket throughout the year, but definitely there will be a few players who will be playing Test cricket and if they have some time and if they get a good contract they can definitely come and play, especially batsmen. Unless you come and play over here it's very difficult to keep practising on the outside and think this will help. It's important to spend some time over here, and it will definitely help, and it has helped other players in the past, whether they are former West Indies, Australia or Indian cricketers. So definitely something we can look into but it will be difficult to fit it in."
When asked if some of the players, handpicked as India's Test future, could maybe give up the IPL and work on their Test game, Dhoni shot back: "Don't be jealous of the IPL." It says a lot that a man who hardly ever says an emotional thing in press conferences, no matter how dire the circumstance, loses a bit of control of his emotion when a finger is pointed at the IPL. Says a lot, not just about him but the whole Indian cricket system.
Other than that moment of indiscretion, Dhoni remained in control throughout a grilling, where he was asked if he might resign. "You'll have to wait and watch," he said.
Did he still have the mental strength to take this team forward? "You asked me the same question in 2011. You will have to wait and watch if I am strong enough or if I am not strong enough. You will get the news."
The batsmen obviously - and for a change - deserve a major share of the blame for the debacle. "It [the last day's surrender] is a reflection of the batting order that has not done well," Dhoni said. "Vijay has done well but right from the first Test we have not been able to get a good opening partnership. [Cheteshwar] Pujara was early to the middle because of that - in the third or fourth over itself. It kept exposing our No. 3 batsman, and Virat [Kohli] went through a lean patch.
"If you are playing with six batsmen including the keeper, it makes it a bit tough if you lose that many wickets upfront. When the lower order scored runs we made 300-plus totals and once they too got out cheaply then we struggled to put runs on the board. Yes, we are disappointed that we couldn't offer any fight in the last three Test matches. Hopefully, they will take positive out of this defeat and when they come back here - all of them are young and good enough to come back here - and do better."
Dhoni said it was more a mental issue. He is anyway resigned to the fact that there will never be enough time to work out technical issues. "The mental thing comes before the technical aspect," Dhoni said. "If you are getting out in a series like this, it becomes a bit difficult. That's the time you require a lot more mental strength than the technical aspect because changes can't be done or implemented in seven days time or ten days time. You can't do any major changes.
"You have to back yourselves with whatever faults you may be having. The mental strength to know that these are the areas that you may be vulnerable but let's push the bowlers into my areas and let the bowlers attack me. It always helps to know where the off stump is. It makes it easier to handle the fast bowlers, and it's easier to push them on stumps and tackle them better."
To give credit where it is due, Dhoni has shown in this series that mental strength can overcome technical glitches. He has been India's second-highest run-getter, and he has done it in his own unique manner. He revealed he has been working on his batting since November last year, trying to see if he can bat at No. 6, but only began to feel comfortable as a batsman in Manchester.
This is a rare series where the bowlers have done better than the batsmen, but they are far from desirable. It came through when Dhoni was asked if he as a captain has been able to implement the learnings he took from the two series whitewashes in England and in Australia in 2011 and 2012.
"The team has changed completely," Dhoni said. "Whatever strategies I have learned in the series I tried to implement in this series. As a skipper, when you try to manipulate the field you need to see the strengths of the fast bowlers. Our bowlers are different to English bowlers, who keep hitting the same areas. They might be a bit boring but once they get that chance they start attacking you. We have not put enough runs on the board, and you may have spent 30 or 40 minutes [batting] but when you look at the board there wouldn't be many runs.
"That's where we have faulted to some extent. We have not got that kind of bowlers who can bowl the channel, and that's because they may not get a long spell in subcontinent. They won't bowl too long with new ball and sometimes later with old ball when reversing. They don't bowl 22-23 overs, and the whole psyche is to go for wickets. I feel that mindset needs to be conditioned. Once you come to these conditions, you need to be consistent with line."
Dhoni still believes he can win an overseas series given the same bowlers. "The more these bowlers bowl, they will get better," Dhoni said. "And understand the conditions better and respect the fact that they can plan a batsman's dismissal. If they keep it tight from one end and create pressure and bowl in partnership, then even if they don't get the wickets, the other bowler might. Ishant has improved a lot at that. He keeps hitting the same areas and is patient with his line and length and he can attack also. Now, hopefully we don't have too many injuries to this set of bowlers, and the next time they turn around and bowl a better line."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo