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December 23, 2008
Mahendra Singh Dhoni doesn't seek refuge behind words. On Tuesday, he offered up no excuses for the late declaration, which left India with a maximum of only 43 overs to try and bowl England out. They had taken the last six English wickets for 22 in the first innings but, on the final day, Dhoni preferred to focus on two of his batsmen and the possibility of their scoring centuries.
"It's not always so easy," he said after the game. "There was not much wear and tear [in the pitch]. We were leading the series 1-0 and it wasn't 100 percent sure that if we put them in to chase, we'd get them out to win the series 2-0. At the same time, we saw the importance of Gauti [Gautam Gambhir] and Yuvraj's batting on in the match. We wanted them to score their centuries.
"One more reason was when we started batting yesterday evening, we were not sure about the fog. If we'd have gone after the bowlers right from the start and lost wickets thinking that it would be a 70-over game on the last day…. Suppose we turned up and found that it was okay to play at 9 am, like on the second day, and found that you had 98 overs. You would have been thinking that 350 would be a good score to set, and then you find that 98 overs are possible and 350 is easily achievable."
Dhoni thanked Kevin Pietersen and his men for returning to play in the series, adding that the fans had been treated to some excellent cricket over the two Tests. "They've proved that India is not an unsafe place," he said. "We had good cricket over the series. The first Test went to the last day and was interesting. The second Test too. When we lost a few wickets in the second innings, it seemed that it may have an interesting end. The English bowlers were good, our batsmen were good. So in all, it was 10 days of very good cricket."
He certainly wasn't surprised by the fight that England showed over the fortnight, especially with Andrew Flintoff back to full fitness after his injury horror of the last couple of years. "I'd said at the start of the series that England are a good bowling side. With Freddie coming in at six, they can play with five specialist bowlers, and that gives any team an edge. Freddie isn't just an allrounder, he's better than your specialist fast bowler and gives stability to the side.
"We never had any doubts about their batsmen. Pietersen did really well, Freddie chipped in in the second Test. As for preparation, I think both teams had equal opportunities. We assembled our team on the 8th of this month, and England had been practicing in Abu Dhabi for a while. So we were the side that didn't get enough opportunity to prepare."
Many have bemoaned this being a two-Test series, and Dhoni admitted an extra Test would have been interesting. "It's good to have at least a three-Test series, because there are chances of coming back into the series," he said. "In a two-game series, if you lose the first Test, it gets very difficult to come back, especially if it's an away series, because home teams will take advantage and prepare pitches to suit themselves."
After his second-innings heroics in Chennai, Yuvraj produced another innings of substance in Mohali. Dhoni baulked at thinking of him as a replacement for Sourav Ganguly, insisting that he had what it took to carve out his own niche. "It's not about whether he can replace Sourav, about who's better or whether he's the ideal replacement or not," he said. "He's Yuvraj Singh and I'd like to talk about him as Yuvraj Singh. I don't think he looks at himself as the guy who'll fill in the shoes of Sourav Ganguly. The position he bats in, five or six, we need him to bat the way he does. He's an aggressive player and the couple of innings he's played in this series will give him ample confidence to play his game at the top level."
There was a man-of-the-series display from one of Yuvraj's contemporaries, Zaheer Khan. Again, Dhoni was lavish in his praise. "He's excellent," he said. "The execution of the plans is important, and he's very clear in his thoughts. He plans against each and every batsman and when you go to the middle, he's ready with his plans. I feel he has transformed himself into a thinking cricketer.
"He watches the batsmen and immediately decides the area to bowl. If that doesn't work, he's always ready with Plan B. His commitment and effort have been brilliant, especially in India. Here the fast bowlers don't get much purchase from the wicket though, of course, reverse swing is important. As a fast bowler, you have to work on the ball yourself. You know what to do to get the reverse swing going as quickly as possible. The last couple of years, he's bowled really well and hopefully he'll continue to do that."
Gambhir's development as a top-quality opener has been another huge positive, and that was amply illustrated in Mohali where he batted 577 balls for his match tally of 276. "Both Viru [Virender Sehwag] and Gauti, with the starts they give, give us a platform to capitalise from and put up a big score," said Dhoni. "They complement each other, they play their shots, they run well between the wickets - though, of course, there was a run-out in this innings - and that helps. They know each other very well, they know what they're thinking. Gambhir looks upon Viru as a mentor. They've played so much cricket together for Delhi, for the same zone. That helps them, and the team."
With the tour of Pakistan now cancelled - "Rest," said Dhoni instantly when asked how he planned to spend the free time - New Zealand will be India's next challenge, and in that context, the return to form of Rahul Dravid was a most welcome one. "Next, we're going to New Zealand and there the ball will be doing a bit because the conditions favour the seam bowlers," he said. "So yes, it's good to see Rahul Dravid among the runs. He'll really help the other batsmen on what they need to do when they're in New Zealand. This break will also help not only him, but all the others too to prepare."
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