Panesar the difference - Dhoni
MS Dhoni has admitted to being disappointed "to an extent" with his own spinners, but he insisted Monty Panesar was a touch above everyone else, making the big difference. India finally got the square turner they wanted, played three spinners, won the toss, posted a first-innings total that many thought was surplus in these conditions, but squandered it through some ordinary spin bowling.
In helpful conditions, Panesar and Graeme Swann took 19 wickets between them in 121.2 overs. India's three specialist bowlers bowled 113.1 overs for just nine wickets. To say the Indian spinners were outplayed will be an understatement. This is one of the most disappointing performances by an Indian spin unit in favourable home conditions.
It can be granted that Panesar's natural pace is more suited to bowling on such pitches, but Swann adjusted well too, unlike the Indian bowlers. R Ashwin and Harbhajan Singh were especially friendly on a surface where spinners had no business being friendly. Especially disappointing was their tendency to bowl short, not making the batsmen drive, which was where most of the mistakes happened. That is what, according to Dhoni, was the bigger flaw than not being able to adjust to the pace required on the surface.
"There is a particular style of bowling," Dhoni said. "We also tried to bowl fast. We didn't get the same purchase. It's the same as two different batsmen. Some conditions suit you, some don't. I felt the only thing we could have done better is make them drive more than we did. If you bowl short on a wicket that has a bit of bounce, you give them time. Especially the fact that we were getting more purchase when we were bowling a little slow."
However, Dhoni was fulsome in his praise of Panesar. "The way Monty bowled, he was different from other bowlers," Dhoni said. "All the other bowlers were getting bounce and turn, but Monty bowled at real pace. He bowled at 90-95kph and even above that, and still he got real turn. He had a big impact on the game.
"The other spinners got the bounce, but they never looked to trouble the batsmen as much a Monty did. Big credit goes to him. If you get performances like this, margin of defeat can be big. Credit also goes to Pujara from our side, who batted really well. Pietersen and Cook batted really well. They batted off the back foot really well. I wish we were a bit fuller, and made them drive more."
However, Dhoni stood by his demand for exactly the kind of pitch this Test was played on. "I think this was a very good wicket," he said. "Tests in the subcontinent should be played on such wickets. The toss wasn't that vital. It started turning from the first day."
Dhoni insisted he would love to get such pitches more often, regardless of the result here. "Of course I will want a similar wicket," he said. "That's what our speciality is. What's the point of playing on a flat track and winning the toss and batting for three or four days over the Test? You want to face challenges in test cricket. These are the kinds of wickets that push you. Definitely all the wickets should be like this."
However, Dhoni's reasoning for such pitches calls for a much better show from the players in Kolkata. "The best thing about these conditions is, no side is guaranteed a win," Dhoni said. "You have to play well to win." If India do get another turner, they will "have to play well to win."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo