India have found a settled combination - Dhoni
MS Dhoni has said India have found a "settled batting and bowling combination" for the remaining three Tests in the series against Australia. It is every indicator that India will go ahead with playing five bowlers, including Ravindra Jadeja as the third spinner, for the remainder of the Test series.
Under Dhoni, India have rarely gone in with five bowlers, even if including an allrounder, but the last two Tests - against England in Nagpur and Australia in Chennai - have been different. Dhoni said that playing at home had made the five-bowler choice "a big plan". Due to the conditions at work, he said, they can perfect the combination at home.
Playing overseas with Dhoni as the sixth batsman makes the batting look "weak." At home, though, including Jadeja in XI has worked, Dhoni said. "With three Tests to come this looks like a very settled batting and bowling combination."
The three spinners put into use on the way to India's eight-wicket win over Australia in Chennai did not include left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha, who had taken 20 wickets in the last series against England. The closer the Hyderabad pitch resembles the one in Chennai, the greater the chances of Ojha sitting out of a match on his home ground. Jadeja, who bowls left-arm spin and has far greater batting credentials than Ojha, Dhoni said, had made it into the team as a third spinning option.
The choice of Jadeja over Ojha, Dhoni said, had worked for two reasons. Offspinners R Ashwin and Harbhajan Singh had been brought in because Australia had four left-hand batsmen in their top six. "They had lots of left-handers and we assumed the wicket will turn and often it is said the away-going spinner is quite difficult to play," Dhoni said. The inclusion of Jadeja came about due to his batting abilities over Ojha's and because he could "bowl long spells and can be conservative in that he can bowl tight".
"That was one of the reasons we said let's go with two offspinners and one left-arm with Jadeja doing the job."
Jadeja's presence in the XI, Dhoni said, had automatically meant the captain would come in to bat at No.6, one spot up from his otherwise established slot at No. 7. "Till Jadeja is playing I will have to bat at No. 6 and till he gets comfortable and used to international Test cricket," Dhoni said. "If he really starts to do really well according to the amount of talent he has, we will think about it [where Jadeja should bat] later."
Dhoni's elevation to the No.6 spot for the second Test in succession produced his maiden Test double-century, 224 scored at a strike rate of over 84. He was run out in the Nagpur Test for 99. The two innings are different due to the demands of the game, but his approach to batting has stayed the same.
"This game was evenly poised and Nathan (Lyon) was bowling well," Dhoni said. "It was important that you get rid of that extra catching fielder that is around you. So that if you misread a flighted delivery or you go back to a ball that is pitched slightly up, you don't have that one extra catching fielder to take that inside edge or that bad pat. And it worked well."
Dhoni said the rest of the batting line-up too had played its role even though neither Cheteshwar Pujara got to 50 nor Sachin Tendulkar hundred. "They played for a considerable period of time and the humidity over here, we all know Chennai gets quite humid and bowlers get quiet tired… we were able to bat for more than four sessions, so overall it was a very good effort both by the bowlers and the batsmen."
India's two medium-pacers in the Chennai Test, Ishant Sharma and debutant Bhuvneshwar Kumar, may have bowled between them only 33 of India's 226 overs in the Test but have given their team, Dhoni said, the options and variety it needed, which as good as ruled out the idea of packing another spinner in Ojha in the XI in Hyderabad. "You have to be sure the wicket will turn," Dhoni said. "On the first day most of us assumed it will be a turning track. There will be plenty for the spinners. But we saw it was a decent wicket. That's why you want to be prepared in a situation where you think this is what may happen, but it goes the other way around."
Dhoni said Bhuvneshwar's ability with the bat had given India another lower-order option and that the extra spinner would have made it difficult to juggle him around the other three. "You can't make three or four spinners bowl the exact number of overs," Dhoni said. "You don't see the number of overs bowled by them before you make a bowling change, you see who looks effective and make a bowling change."
If there was an element of the Indian batting that appeared weak in Chennai it was the opening combination of Virender Sehwag and M Vijay, but Dhoni said he would wait before drawing conclusions. "You need to give them a fair amount of time," he said. "So let's hope for the best… Let's continue with him (Vijay) and give him some time and that comfort of saying he is wanted over here."
When asked whether the memory of the Nagpur 99 had played on his mind, Dhoni said, "I've got five 90s so it doesn't weigh any more - I personally believe it's the top six batsmen who worry about the 100s. I've never thought a lot about hundreds."
Dhoni said he was asked by Dilip Vengsarkar after he had scored 92 at The Oval whether he would have done something different with reference to his dismissal. "I said no, I would bat the same way if I get a chance to hit, I'll hit. So nothing much has changed… what's your speciality remains your speciality."
This has been the shakiest period in Dhoni's captaincy following a home series defeat to England and he said he dealt with the pressure by not reading the newspapers or watching television. "It's not like I don't read newspapers," he said. "But third page from the behind is the sports page, so you try to get rid of it. Because otherwise you don't know what's happening in India.
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo