India v England, 4th Test, Nagpur, 3rd day December 15, 2012

India's gritty boys

For contrasting reasons, MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli were under pressure but they responded in the best possible manner to keep India in the Test

Saturday in Nagpur was not a big test of skill. It was a slow and low pitch that it was difficult to get out on, which - if you look at it in isolation and as a neutral - has provided drab cricket. This was a different kind of test for two different kinds of men in two different kinds of predicaments. You can look at MS Dhoni's face when he is walking back, and not tell whether he has won a game or lost it, or even tied it. But turn to Virat Kohli and there is a full match report written on it. They have both been copping it of late, and not entirely unfairly.

Dhoni has led India to nine defeats in the last 10 Tests he has played against Australia and England. Any captain will be questioned after that, but the way it has been handled isn't been ideal. First we got the impression the selectors didn't want to touch him, then when they became former selectors they alleged they couldn't touch him because of the BCCI president's backing. All that in the lead-up to a Test India need to save to avoid a first home series defeat in close to nine years.

Kohli, the man most likely to replace Dhoni as captain whenever he is replaced, had gone through a perplexing series until today. One of the best traits of his batting is that he doesn't gift you his wicket. In this series, though, he had been playing loose shots. It was tempting to think Test cricket was getting to him, but that couldn't have been the case. Just before the series started, in a tricky but successful chase against New Zealand in Bangalore, he faced 15 dots before scoring a run under immense pressure from a good attack under overcast skies.

Lesser batsmen have been known to throw it away at such times, looking for release from that pressure. Suresh Raina did so with a shot that might have ended his Test career (maybe not, for you never know with Indian cricket). Kohli, though, showed no emotion or itch. He waited and waited before a ball arrived that deserved to be scored off, and came back with an unbeaten fifty and a Test won. Incidentally, his partner then was Dhoni.

Kohli is too good a batsman to keep getting out the way he has been, playing nothing shots outside off. It isn't the bottle or the technique that he has been lacking. Whatever it was, those who had not followed his efforts in Perth, Adelaide and Bangalore were questioning him, and his scores deserved those questions.

A current captain and a future captain were both losing trust, and they needed to do something about it. Okay so this was not a test of their pure batting skills, but it was a test of temperament, of patience, of mental and physical energy, and most importantly of staying in the present. Don't think of the past. Shut out Jimmy Amarnath, Sachin Tendulkar's wicket, the loose shots outside off. Don't think of the future. Shut out the ticking clock because this is not a pitch where you can score quick runs, and starting at 87 for 4 you can only cause damage by thinking of whether you will have enough time to force a result. Also forget that one of you plays possibly the best cover-drive in the world, and the other has never faced more than 187 balls in a Test innings.

The biggest target for India on day three was to end in a position where they could make use of it should the pitch break up and start turning. Had India trailed by 100 on first innings, which looked quite likely at the start of the day, no amount of turn would have helped them. Alternatively if the pitch doesn't break up, quick runs won't help anyway.

"This pitch isn't made for pretty but India don't need pretty. Batting like millionaires hasn't been working; they need to bat like paupers for a bit"

Dhoni and Kohli showed that if you just put your mind to defending, it's too difficult for a bowler to get a wicket. They just batted. Defend, defend, defend, sneak a single here, convert two into three there. And boy did they run? It wasn't pretty. This pitch isn't made for pretty. India need the unpretty. Batting like millionaires hasn't been working; they need to bat like paupers for a bit.

For a long period, it didn't seem even the centuries mattered to them. Kohli reached 90 in the 109th over and the hundred in the 115th. In between he hit Dhoni's bat with a straight drive, which cost him four runs. That was the only time his expressive face showed any sign of anxiety. Dhoni reached 90 in the 113th over and was run out for 99 in the 130th, but until that run-out you would have thought he was batting in the 30s.

Perhaps it was the non-expressive Dhoni face that led you to believe the hundred didn't matter. Perhaps it didn't matter. Perhaps Dhoni thought that was a normal run: remember he had to run slightly around James Anderson, and still he had reached the line when the stumps were hit.

Whatever the case may be, the two had fallen at crucial moments. From a position where they could have gone after quick runs on the fourth morning, they had been reduced to a situation where being bowled out is the best thing that can happen to them. As has been happening over the last 18 months - Raina bowling in the middle session on day four at Lord's, the hat-trick at Trent Bridge, the wickets of Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid either side of stumps at the MCG - India had come second-best in a critical phase once again. A side that has been losing a lot of its talent can't afford that.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Par on December 16, 2012, 18:20 GMT

    @meanster - harsha - vacant mind . My objection was to suddenly making too much out of one innings, when the realities are both dhoni/ kohli's backsides were on fire before this game. In age old indian tradition they are buying themselves time and thats about it. I bet 5 years from now Kohli would not reach same heights as cook/ amla in 5 yrs of TEST career. For the vacant mind, I was referring to author making big deal of virat's temperament/ character based on 15 balls he faced against lo and behold NZL! I dont think australians/ Saffers consider their batsman great when withstand SL bowlers for 15 mins (no disrespect to SL, point is SL bowlers are in as much unfamiliar territory when they are visiting SA/AUS as NZL were in india). And for harsha fellow, i duly apologize for not realising test-odi-t20 are all same and runs scored in each format are equal and by that logic virat is really the best batsman in cricket today. wish you goodluck in lalaland!

  • Par on December 16, 2012, 15:43 GMT

    @Samroy. Cmon you are bringing down Sutcliffe to the level of samerveera ? You could have your own (or wisden's definition) of greats, nothing against Hobbs/ Hammond. Although from my readings and if I would have watched these guys play, I would have admired Sutcliffe more than Hobbs (who was truly one of the greats, and sorry for missiing his name!) But this last innings by Kohli/ Dhoni if it had to be to compared, Hobbs was not the name that would first come to my mind.

    The point is We have articles touting Virat as next leader, his patience based on "15 balls he faced under pressure". Given his potential he should be doing this (getting good scores, not just playing 15 balls patiently!) day in day out, all four test matches. You can see how that one good innings manifests itself, the guy is throwing tantrums/ intimidating umpires today. So hold horses (and these articles) that is all that I am saying. He is no leader yet, unless arrogant richard-heads is what you want for leaders!

  • Dummy4 on December 16, 2012, 13:40 GMT

    When everybody is taking about Dhoni's captaincy, why nobody talks about the Great Shewag.......... As long as he is in the team, India can forget any win either in the Home series or overseas matches. Probably by continuing with Shewag may be a an Advantage for Team India so that he will bring in-fight in the rival camp by claiming who is going to bowl for him because it is the easiest wicket even a school lad can claim........

  • Shantanu on December 16, 2012, 12:49 GMT

    Dhoni played a very mature innings and so did Kohli but this branding in the article of existing captain & future captain is not correct. At present India is playing a fairly young team and the seniors are not contributing enough hence the burden is falling on young players. The contribution from Gmabhir , Sehwag, Tendulkar is not sufficient for frontline bats. If India had posted bigger totals Engalnd would definitely have faced scoreboard pressure. The young bowlers would have had more runs to play with. Now should Dhoni be test captain given the fact that Nagpur test ends in a draw. Its a very big challenge for selectors as neither Gambhir or Sehwag have runs with them to be surity as a captain. That leaves Pujara & Kohli. Both of them are just too young. So Dhoni appears to be the TINA factor. But we can definitely give T20 captaincy to Kohli to ease burden on Dhoni as Dhoni is undisputable leader in one dayers and see how Kohli fares.

  • Saravjit on December 16, 2012, 12:32 GMT

    Someone wanted Stats on Dhoni: This will be 3rd Series Loss in Last 20 Months in Tests , Last 3 T20 World Cups India has been ousted in the Super Six Stage . 50 overs : Triangular in Aust India was Last and in Asia cup again India Last So does he Deserve a place in the Team forget being Captain

  • Rajesh on December 16, 2012, 11:54 GMT

    well.. this is a slow pitch where there is not much spin or swing and you can stay sure that there won't be short stuffs.. and its as good as a flat track with not great scope for boundary clearance... do you think this was the greatest test for these two men.. there were plenty of innings they could have played this in England or Australia or even in the previous 3 tests.. I wouldn't say this innings has proved great skills of these two men and its quite dangerous to say Kohli is the future leader, pre-maturely... he has still not proved his skills against tough opponents in tough pitches.. I would say Pujara would be a better choice than Kohli given his technique which would suit both Tests and ODIs.. plus he has a cool head and humble which is must rather than the hot and flamboyance of Kohli..

  • Dummy4 on December 16, 2012, 10:48 GMT

    Indians just about have saved this Test. But there was no attempt to win it. How sad. England would laugh their way back to home and Christmas.

  • Price on December 16, 2012, 9:02 GMT

    How much longer will India be allowed to get away without the DRS? Can't India rely on anything more than doctored pitches and intimidating umpires into bad decisions? I challenge CricInfo to publish this post.

  • Salil on December 16, 2012, 6:29 GMT

    Apoorv Bansal- "india will go downhill fast unless dhoni & srinivasan are replaced" Please provide data to backup your statement about Dhoni. As for Srinivasan, are you serious? You certainly have no clue about the order of things.

  • Nadeem on December 16, 2012, 4:51 GMT

    from the articles these days it looks like cricket is dead in india. It's not the case and it's not the end of life if India lose this series. Next up big Indo pak series. It's just a transition period where india don't have legend batting any more so just give a break to indian players and let them lose some matches and series. don't always criticize the captain and don't always make new captains even before thinking. Cricket is big business in India and it's not that easy to just sack a captain.

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