India v New Zealand, 2nd Test, Hyderabad, 5th day November 16, 2010

Dhoni happy with four-pronged attack

ESPNcricinfo staff

Despite the loss of Zaheer Khan to injury and another fruitless outing for the bowling, MS Dhoni appeared reluctant to meddle with the four-bowler strategy that has worked for the team in recent times. Harbhajan Singh's recent heroics with the bat do give Dhoni the luxury of dropping a specialist batsman, but India are unlikely to go down that route in Nagpur.

"It's a tough call to make," said Dhoni. "We're happy to play with four bowlers. That's what we've done more often than not. To put pressure on Bhajji by saying he's an allrounder might be harsh on him. But it is an option."

When the day began with New Zealand just 115 ahead, an Indian win was still very much a possibility. But once Brendon McCullum and Kane Williamson started with wonderfully positive intent and saw off the new ball, there was only going to be one result. "We thought the first one or one-and-a-half hours would be crucial," said Dhoni. "At the time, Zaheer was also fit to bowl, in the sense that he felt he could give it a go.

"But after a couple of overs with the new ball, he decided he's not really fit enough to continue. So we just had Sreesanth left as a medium-pacer. And we had two spinners who had already bowled a good number of overs."

Though Harbhajan's strike-rate with the ball this year is an unflattering 97.4, his batting form has meant that it's Pragyan Ojha who's under scrutiny after two draws against a side ranked No. 8 in the world. "I think Ojha's done a really good job in the games he's played," said Dhoni when it was suggested that Ishant Sharma or Amit Mishra might have been a better choice. "He's taken wickets and is one bowler who can contain and bowl long spells. Even on the flattest of tracks on the first day, he has managed to keep the opposition quiet."

Most of Dhoni's comments dealt with the pitch, which he reckoned wasn't conducive to a result. "I think both teams did well," he said. "I think the wicket supported the batsmen throughout. We've seen less grass on the wicket on the first day of both Test matches. But on the fifth day, you've seen a track with much more grass. It looked much greener compared to the first day. There wasn't much for the bowlers.

"Before the start of the Test, we all knew that Hyderabad was known for being batsmen-friendly. To change the nature of the wicket in a short period of time is difficult."

While frustrated at another stalemate, Dhoni also gave credit to New Zealand, whose top-order batsmen have played with a composure and skill that eluded most of Australia's batsmen on their recent tour of India. "They batted really well," he said. "They waited for the loose deliveries.

"When you're not getting assistance from the pitch, you sometimes try too much to get wickets. And if you look at the last 20-22 games we've played, the bowlers have bowled more than 4000 overs. That's a concern because it's mostly the same bowlers who have featured in those games."

He's taken wickets and is one bowler who can contain and bowl long spells. Even on the flattest of tracks on the first day, he has managed to keep the opposition quiet
MS Dhoni on Prgayan Ojha

That fatigue will definitely be a factor in Nagpur, and all eyes will once again be on the curator with the series up for grabs. There are anecdotes, true or not, from the old days of Indian captains slipping the groundsman a symbolic razor to suggest that not a blade of grass should remain come the first morning. But times have changed and Dhoni admitted that his job is tougher as a result.

"As a foreign team coming to India, you think of how you're going to play the fourth and fifth days," he said. "But when there's no assistance for the bowlers, things change. I don't think they're under the same pressure when handling spinners that they were in the past. You used to see them practise throw-downs on scuffed surfaces with rough areas. I don't think it's like that any more.

"Of the Test matches we've played lately, very few have been on turners. I can remember Ahmedabad against Sri Lanka (2005). After that, Kanpur (2008, against South Africa) to some extent. The CCI wicket in Mumbai (Sri Lanka, 2009) also gave a bit of assistance in the morning."

With his best bowler out of the series and the spinners outbowled by Daniel Vettori, a lot of things will need to fall into place for Dhoni and India to avoid embarrassment in a series that they were expected to win comfortably. A livelier pitch aside, it's time for the other bowlers to prove that this isn't a one-Zaheer team.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Manmath on November 19, 2010, 16:51 GMT

    Once again, what ABOUT MURALI KARTIK? He keeps taking wickets in England's seaming conditions, En glish counties like Middlesex sign him up, English commentators like Nasser Hussain, David Gower, Nick Knight wonder why he is not in the Indian team, he shines in the IPLs- 2009 and 2010- but is NOT EVEN MENTIONED as an option while talking about India's WEAK BOWLING. Also, the stadium is too far away to play Test cricket in Nagpur. Let someone demand that the cricket association arrange buses to take people so far and come back. Dont go screaming off tomorrow that 'Another poor turnout'. People want to come.

  • P on November 19, 2010, 2:49 GMT

    dhoni takes out one catching fielder per shot from opposition batsman. so four shots and all catching fielders are gone. india won matches with spin having catching fielders no matter what the situation. dhoni is hyperdefensive. waiting for some luck to strike like lightning. no catching fielders - no pressure - no chance of wickets. get in a aggressive captain and teh same bowlers will do better - can't see one on the horizon though

  • P on November 19, 2010, 1:11 GMT

    @Nampally. Sorry I don't buy NZ bowlers are any better than India. The math does not hold up. In first innings, NZ lasted only 118 overs against Indian bowling at a scoring rate of below 3rpo. Whereas, India batted around 135 overs at a scoring rate of around 3.2. If India cannot take 20 wickets then neither can NZ. The problem is people don't look at performances from math point of view and ICC ranking does. Human's have a tendency to weigh certain innings by certain players higher and shape their perceptions. Going by perceptions, Indian bowling looks bad than what it is.

  • Subrata on November 18, 2010, 14:34 GMT

    Would be interesting to see how Gambhir, Dhoni and Raina perform in SA. Also i believe they will have series in Eng and Aus after the WC. Should be fun.

  • Dummy4 on November 18, 2010, 12:14 GMT

    Mr KALPSSS needs to refrain from being shortsighted; just 2 draws ( not even losses) are now seen with criticism.... Dhoni has been instrumental in many victories for India even in Test cricket... Everyone goes through bad patches. Even Sachin did several times..

  • Dummy4 on November 18, 2010, 8:12 GMT

    Harbhajan and Ishant's batting did what Dhoni and Raina cannot do (saving Test matches with their batting). So MS needs them (atleast for a draw). I don understand why Indians are waiting for Dravid, Lax, Sachin to retire so that they can bring in TEST focussed youngsters in the squad. Look at the Australians, they bought in new comers only at Raina's position and then once they are experienced, they promote them above the order. People get carried away with Gilly's success... He is a legend.... Forget him and focus we can bring in a Bell (i.e Pujara, who is consistent and can score quick) in Raina's position... One last thing. India will not stay long in No.1. It is not a stab against anyone... It is because the HOME pitches are not good enough to bring results. If you look at history, nations which have dominated the rankings for longer periods of time, have WON more test matches for continuous periods of time. Draw is not good enough, Dhoni.

  • GP on November 18, 2010, 3:24 GMT

    @allenthomson: Considering you live in NZ how about refreshing the outcome of last Indian last tour of NZ. India won the 3 test series 1-0. Rain on the last day of the 3rd test saved kiwis the humiliation of a 2-0 series loss.

    In reg to your other comment, NZ didnt loose the game as they were not overtly aggressive and smartly managed to salvage a draw.On the other hand, Aus, by far the most aggressive team, play hard and aggressive to get a result out of the game. This modus operandii more often than not, against a quality opposition, puts them in a spot of bother.

  • Ashok on November 18, 2010, 0:52 GMT

    @kiwiRocker: NZ is playing good cricket because the Indian bowlers are allowing them to. If India had put a fresh lot of bowlers like Ashwin, Unadkat, Ishant and Chawla, the 2 tests might have turned in favour of India.India is still #1 test team because they have better record than all other teams including Australia and England.Your comments are irelevant. NZ are #7 and will likely remain there even after losing to B/Desh.If India fields a new lot of physically fit bowlers on the field, NZ's deficiencies will be exposed. So KiwiRocker, thank the Indian Selectors for keeping NZ still in the series. India still has the best batting line up in the world, let no one forget this.. Hopefully it will click in the next test to get over 600 on the board. It will be left up to bowlers to perform then. Hopefully this is a wake up call for the Indian Selectors.

  • niaz on November 17, 2010, 18:23 GMT

    80s WI had 5 or 6 bowlers who had better strike rate than ZAK or Harbhajan. 90s AUS always had some all-rounders,but McGrath and Warne were so good they hardly needed a fifth bowler. If you have one world class spinner and three pacers with averages nr or below 30, you would not miss the fifth bowler. (Most teams now have 2 all-rounders in the ODI team,india use none). For tests Zak is fine, Bhaji will be ok. Sree can be erratic. Among Sree/Ishanth/PK india might find a somewhat decent no 2 pacer. With that india needs a 3rd seamer. Irfan fits the role very well. Statistically he is a better bowler than any current seamers [may be except Zak]. He bats really well against quality attack, where sometimes indian batting greats occasionally fail. My indian 11 would be: Shewag, Ghamvir/Murali, Dravid/Pujara, Tendulker, Laxman, Dhoni, IKPathan, Harbhajan, PK/Sre, Zak, Ashwin. There is enough batting in the team. Bowling is weak, but better than the current team.

  • Dummy4 on November 17, 2010, 17:35 GMT

    Where is Irfan and Munaf????

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