Second-innings performances a concern - Dhoni
India have endured tense second innings in three out of their previous four Tests because of top-order collapses at P Sara, Mohali and Motera. It's made for riveting watching but MS Dhoni is aware of the problem and, although he isn't overly concerned since the results have been favourable, he doesn't like it.
"Our performance in the second innings is not that great in recent times. We were a bit bothered," Dhoni said on the eve of the second Test against New Zealand in Hyderabad. "The kind of experience we have, if you can do well in the first innings there's no reason you can repeat it in the second."
Those horrible starts ended pleasantly for India because VVS Laxman came to their rescue. He scored an unbeaten 103 after India were 62 for 4 in Colombo, an unbeaten 73 when his team was reeling at 124 for 8 in Mohali, and 91 after India were reduced to 15 for 5 in Ahmedabad. The last collapse was the most surprising, because it occurred on a lifeless pitch during one inspired spell from Chris Martin. This New Zealand attack was thought incapable of disturbing the most experienced line-up in the world.
Even the most experienced line-ups in the world, though, are vulnerable to palpitations. Dhoni spoke of the mild panic in the dressing-room as the match lurched from heading towards an inevitable draw to India being a wicket away from defeat. "Of course there was [panic], frankly speaking, but we knew we needed one partnership," he said. "What happens when you lose quick wickets is that your heartbeat goes up and at times you tend to commit mistakes. We were a bit worried but we were waiting for that one good partnership to happen.
"It's just the mental barrier or mindset. At times you tend to go too ahead of the game. In the last Test, maybe we thought the wicket is difficult to get out on, so maybe it will end in a draw. It's always good to be in the present. We aren't too bothered about it [the collapse] but it has happened a bit too frequently."
Another common factor during India's troubles in Mohali and Ahmedabad is Gautam Gambhir making a second-innings duck. He did not play at the P Sara but Gambhir made one in Galle as well and India lost by ten wickets. He now has three second-innings ducks in a row and only 86 runs in his last nine innings. Gambhir was among the first specialist batsmen at practice today and he knows he has a little more rope and the backing of his captain.
"In Gautam's case, you might say it's a fear of failure but I think it's a fear of performance," Dhoni said. "He's set his benchmark so high and in India when you set a high benchmark you're expected to better it. He's in that phase where you have the pressure of performance rather than the pressure of failure. He will realise that he needs to set his own benchmarks and think practically about what is a good performance."
Unlike on innumerable occasions in the past, though, India are not without a ready replacement opener. M Vijay has made the most of the few opportunities he has been given - a match-winning century against Australia in Bangalore being his most recent effort. Should Gambhir's fallow patch cause him to run out of rope, Vijay will step in. But not yet.
"Gautam Gambhir is the best pick for the opening slot right now," Dhoni stressed when asked for how long a person could be selected on experience. "M Vijay has done well in whatever format and wherever he has got a chance. But he will have to wait for some more time."
The Gambhir-Sehwag combination at the top of India's order was the driving force behind them claiming the No. 1 ranking in Tests. Long may it continue, is what the team is thinking.