July 13, 2014

Dhoni wins the first round in the captaincy battle

India's and England's captains have both taken some inexplicable decisions in the first Test at Trent Bridge. But Dhoni managed to take advantage of the hosts' frail line-up

In trying to overcome his frailty outside off stump, Alastair Cook has become susceptible to lbw dismissals and to being bowled behind his legs © Associated Press

The England-India series began with two embattled captains trying to assert their authority and establish a position of supremacy. It was the Indian skipper who took the first positive steps in that battle at Trent Bridge.

MS Dhoni started well by winning the toss, which was an important triumph on what looked a dry and lifeless strip and one that should have encouraged India to include two spinners among their five bowlers.

Undeterred by this obvious blunder, Dhoni took another giant stride in the race for supremacy when he batted himself at No. 6; nothing like a strong, positive lead from the skipper to galvanise the troops for a long hard battle.

His counterpart, Alastair Cook, started cautiously but suddenly had a drastic change of heart when he inspired his bowlers with some innovative field placings. This radical change prompted the question: Were these tactics his own idea, or was the ploy brought on by outside criticism or suggestions from team-mates, or even worse, the coach?

If such a drastic change does occur as a result of criticism or prodding, it's not sustainable over a long period. Eventually the natural traits will resurface. Unfortunately for England it soon became clear that the conservative captain Cook was still lurking under the surface.

So was a disturbing trend. Once again England failed to turn a reasonable situation into a winning one when Cook was unable to press home the advantage and India's last-wicket pair piled on the humiliation and frustration.

At a time when Ballance and Robson should have taken full advantage of the flat pitch and pedestrian bowling, they failed to dominate. Bell has the ability and temperament to take charge and has to bat at No. 3

This trend, which began in Australia, has now assumed dangerous proportions. There's no doubt it's having an effect on Cook's team-mates, who must be wondering if he has the imagination to inspire England when an extra effort is required.

Not only is this debilitating for the team, it's also putting a lot of pressure on the England hierarchy, who unwisely backed Cook's leadership at the expense of picking the best side.

England could be in deep trouble if things continue to go awry, but if they unearth a strong leader, pick the right type of players and stop searching for a team who are all best buddies, they could quickly become a force again. Knowing the conservatism that pervades English cricket I'm not expecting it to happen.

If India made a huge blunder in choosing Stuart Binny - a move that made less sense after he batted at No. 8 and hardly bowled - England were equally erroneous in constructing their batting order. To place Gary Ballance, a stiff, manufactured player, ahead of the fluent and dominant Ian Bell makes no sense at all. Sure, Ballance has done okay in his short career, but at a time when he and Sam Robson should have taken full advantage of the flat pitch and pedestrian bowling, they failed to dominate. Bell has the ability and temperament to take charge and has to bat at No. 3.

Many of England's players are suffering a Mitchell Johnson hangover and there's a worrying susceptibility against well-directed bouncers, even on a lifeless pitch. To have Ben Stokes, a player who showed his mettle in Australia, languishing at eight made as much sense as Ballance ahead of Bell.

As Cook's form slump continues, it's obvious his captaincy woes have invaded his batting. In trying to overcome a frailty outside off stump he has created more problems for himself by shuffling across the crease, making him more prone to the lbw dismissal and also to being bowled behind his legs. When confidence deserts a player and responsibility weighs heavily, it's amazing how often lady luck turns her back.

Despite Dhoni's strong start to the series this battle is going to be a tough one for India. However, whereas on the last tour India capitulated quickly, they have shown a lot of fight at Trent Bridge. No doubt this resilience has been bolstered by the fissures currently appearing in English cricket. If Dhoni is able to establish supremacy he needs to ensure he capitalises to the fullest. Picking the right combination will help.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator for Channel 9, and a columnist

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Y2G_87 on July 18, 2014, 9:53 GMT

    @jimbond - I agree that Jadeja has control over runs, but what really matters in test cricket is wickets.

    India is carrying better pace attack even though in absence of Zaheer but, not really a attack which can take 20 wickets unless English batsmen commit mistake.

    Ashwin is better test player than Jadeja in all departments in test matches except fielding and in test match it is not a mandate for all the ten fielders to be star fielders. Definitely if we can accommodate only one spinner Jadeja is never an option, even if not Ashwin,

    England definitely has stronger pace attack then most of the teams, especially than India, so they can live with Moen Ali, who is getting some lucky wickets.

    If India's strength is not pace bowling then why to worry about 4th seamer.

    So Ashwin is never an optional resource, but should have a place stamped in any tour played anywhere.

    So it should be between Binny and Jadeja whether to pick a fast bowling or spin bowling all rounder.

  • indianzen on July 15, 2014, 21:08 GMT

    Drawing the match was great for England, ain't it Ian ? come one, so called swing bowlers, dominant cricketers of England have gone for vacation ? India player better and fair cricket all round and deserve appreciation more than the brits...

  • Nampally on July 15, 2014, 15:19 GMT

    In my opinion both the Captains made about the same good & bad moves. Dhoni was lucky to win the toss & bat but he used the wrong set of bowlers by dropping Ashwin -game/set/Match! England playing with 6 LH bats avoid facing off spinner who was the fastest 100 wkt. taker in Test matches, albeit most wkts. were on Indian pitches. This pitch was closest to the Indian pitch. So the Indian bowling lost its trump card thereby surrendering the Toss advantage. Dhoni coming in @#6 batted well to get 81. Cook was quite dynamic in his field placing getting Pujara out via an unconventional short mid on. Also he brought Broad just when Kohli arrived to get him out twice. Both the captains failed to lack tactics to dismiss the tail enders which was the main reason for the drawn Test. Were the XI selected deficient in good bowlers or had wrong bowlers? That is the real question NOT the Captaincy. Dhoni cannot drop Ashwin with 6 LH bats in England. England need either Panesar or Patel + a Pacer.

  • espncricinfomobile on July 15, 2014, 7:06 GMT

    I think the English curators would be preparing a wicket with a little bit of grass on it to assist the seam attack! But if the same wicket as of Nottingham is prepared, then Dhoni must play Ashwin in place of Dhawan as Binny has performed quite well with confidence. My Indian Team- Vijay, Pujara, Rahane, Kohli, Binny, Dhoni, Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar, Jadeja, Shami and Ishant! As far as English team is concerned only Jordan can be brought instead of Stokes! And about the captaincy James Anderson can replace Alaistair Cook as he also has an experience of 95 tests! Let cook concentrate on his batting and prove his critics wrong!

  • dummy4fb on July 15, 2014, 3:05 GMT

    Err.. I'm an Indian and I think, with due respect, Chappelli got it wrong here. If you mention England's lack of imagination in dislogding Kumar-Shami, surely Dhoni was no better against Anderson (although Root wasn't exactly a tailender, granted!). Their inner self re-surfaces pretty soon over the course of five days. If Dhoni can get rid of Binny and get Aaron or Yadav as a pace bowling option, THEN you may say he as being truly brave. Ditto England ditching Moeen for Finn, Jordan or Panesar. Surely Ballance's legspin showed more promise than Moeen's entire spells, and Root can shoulder some more part-time load.

  • CurrentPresident on July 15, 2014, 1:43 GMT

    Dhoni weaknesses clouded by England's poor showing: 1. India does not have a bowling leader, hence nobody knows how to 'maintain' the ball, hence no reverse swing for Indians. On a bowler friendly pitch, the India attack will fail against the lower order batsmen as they don't know how to use the old ball effectively.

    2. Omitting players like Yadav and Varoon who offer the pace and bounce that the English are uncomfortable against. Medium pace will not bother the English and once they stop obliging with their poor shot selection, it will be tough to get them out twice.

    3. Suspect slip lineup. He needs to train specialists to catch in the slips. In tests, it is far more important than Dhoni seems to realize.

  • bhushanB on July 14, 2014, 20:01 GMT

    Dhoni should have let Binny bowl more overs (i) to see if he can adapt himself on such a pitch (ii) if he can control the run flow (iii) provide the much needed respite for the quicks

    If at all Binny has bowled a few more overs, may be Ishant & Shami would have found more rest and could have bowled with more energy to the last pair...

    I do not think Rohit would have done any wonders definitely with the ball than what Binny managed... and what he can do with bat is open to debate... as he is more often than not a NOHIT on the field

  • RB007 on July 14, 2014, 15:32 GMT

    For a team struggling to find an all rounder, on the evidence, India actually had 3 in Trent Bridge - Jadeja, Stuart and Bhuvaneswar. It is possible that in future away Test Matches, Rohit, Ashwin, Jadeja and Stuart may be the horses for courses selections. In difficult batting conditions, Rohit may play as the 6th batsman. In Trent Bridge like conditions, perhaps it is better to play a genuine 4th seamer like Pankaj or Aaron. Jadeja and Ashwin will probably alternate till one of them comes up with a significant bowling performance. Stuart might play as and when pitches are 50 /50 - neither totally for bowlers nor for batsmen. I am glad he came good on the final day. Just adds more flexibility to the team whicjh looks to cover all the bases. But the big surprise was the revelation that Bhuvaneswar looks capable to bat at no. 8

  • cricketsubh on July 14, 2014, 13:56 GMT

    i donot think 1st round goes to dhoni both dhoni and cook are defensive captains they donot want to take any chance after ind take lead of 300 dhoni not declear

  • dummy4fb on July 14, 2014, 13:50 GMT

    We must not judge Dhoni harshly. We already know that, winning a test is no more easy because tail enders are also resisting these days. This happened in Eng-SL series also. And we very well know that Indian bowling is not of quality. We know Ishant has never delivered consistently and he is the opening bowler. How can this be inspiring to a team? And what sort of fast bowling management, India had? During the last few years how many of them went from strength to strength? Irfan, Munaf, Praveen Kumar, Balaji, Sreesanth etc. were tried. All of them are out of selection radar. How does this help the team? There are others also following their way. why we have no pragmatic approach to develop fast bowlers? Unless we do some needful in this area, you can't expect to win tests overseas. Whipping Dhoni can't help. He himself would have no idea how he can express his problems in this department.