Mahendra Singh Dhoni: "We raised our standards, we took the responsibility as a team, and that's what really matters"
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After ceding the limelight to Sachin Tendulkar on the final day in
Chennai, Mahendra Singh Dhoni fronted up to the cameras and microphones in
Mohali, perhaps aware that no Indian captain has won three Tests on the
trot [excluding tours of Bangladesh] since Sourav Ganguly triumphed at
[Australia] and Bulawayo
seven years ago. His record as
captain thus far is perfect - four from four - and Mohali was the scene of
the most emphatic victory, a 320-run drubbing
of Australia two months ago.
"Nothing is easy, I can assure you of that," said Dhoni with a smile when
asked if this whole captaincy business was a lark. "International cricket
is tough. Yes, if you do have a good side, if the side is doing everything
right, it looks a bit easy. I think it's just that the team is playing
There was certainly cause for alarm in Chennai,
with England dominating
the first three days of the match. "In the first three days, I don't think
we won too many sessions," Dhoni said. "But the last two days, we were on the
mark, we won the sessions that mattered. We raised our standards, we took
the responsibility as a team, and that's what really matters. Viru [Sehwag] started
it in the second innings and of course Sachin and Yuvi [Yuvraj Singh] batted really well.
But at the same time, the bowlers were also fine. When there were
partnerships, they were willing to bowl and stick to the plans.
The cracks on the Mohali pitch didn't faze him unduly, and he said that he
expected it behave much like the surface on which Australia had been
beaten. "It's tough to say how different it is," he said. "I can only say
how different it's looking right now. It's quite dry, though a fraction
harder than the surface we'd played on. But there have been quite a few
Ranji Trophy games on the same wicket, and looks can be deceptive. It
could be on the slower side."
Dhoni was unstinting in his praise for the batsmen who pulled off the
Chennai chase, and he stressed on how the big partnerships mattered.
"I think a lot depended on the start," he said. "I think it was a perfect start given by Viru, because if you don't get such a start, you'd be playing to save the game, which is not easy. It looked easy when Yuvi and Sachin were batting. When they were through with the
initial stage, it looked a bit easy. But it's really tough and gets
tougher when a new batsman is in. When a partnership gets going, it looks
like a flat wicket. But when a new batsman comes in, all of a sudden the
balls seem to start to jump and everything seems to happen, especially on
a fifth-day wicket."
In his mind, there were no doubts about Sehwag's standing in the modern
game. "Whether it's the last innings he played, or the way he plays, he is
one of the most destructive batsmen in Test cricket and one-day cricket," said
Dhoni. The positive mindset within the team has also allowed the likes of
Sehwag to play their natural game. "To keep it very simple, we back Sehwag
to play his shots even if he gets out in a few innings. As a team, we
backed him. We know the game he plays and we know how he's got so many
runs in international cricket. So believe in the talent that every
individual has got. That really makes us a real team."
Sehwag's brilliance in Chennai largely obscured another significant
contribution from Gautam Gambhir, whose form since returning to the side
has been nothing short of a revelation. "Both of them complement each
other," said Dhoni. "They've played loads of domestic cricket together,
they run well between the wickets. Both of them are aggressive, they play
their strokes. They score at a brisk pace, over three an over. So if they
stay together for 10 to15 overs, we know that they would get 50 to 60
runs. But the one thing that stands out is their running between the
Dhoni on Rahul Dravid: "Once he passes the 30-run mark, he'll get his confidence back"
There was some sympathy for the English bowlers who toiled without much
reward on the final day in Chennai, on a pitch where India too had
struggled for breakthroughs.
"They didn't bowl badly, it's just that at times things do not go your way," he said. "When there was a partnership between Paul Collingwood and Andrew Strauss, nothing was happening for us. Even when the ball was bouncing, or hitting the glove, it wasn't going to the fielders. It happens in cricket at times.
"Maybe they could have done something different. They could have got Monty
to bowl in the rough; they could have done something different, especially
when Sachin went for his chest pad, it was very obvious that he'd not
played his shots from that region so at that time they could have gone for
some of their options. With a great player like him, you can see what the
indications are, which basically in this case was that he would not play shots
from the rough, unless it was really pitched up, underneath his bat."
The euphoria surrounding the run chase temporarily stopped talk of the
Rahul Dravid crisis, but predictably, the questions were back in full
force on Thursday. "I've said that each time, I'm not really worried,"
Dhoni said. "I feel it's just a matter of time. Once he passes the 30-run
mark, he'll get his confidence back. Nobody can question his talent and
determination. We have confidence in him and I think he'll get runs at
some point of time."
He didn't, however, rule out a change in the batting order, with VVS
Laxman moving up to No.3 and Dravid dropping down to No.5. "We're
thinking, but at the same time it's not confirmed because we have to think
of a few other things as well," he said. "Shifting Rahul to No. 5 and
asking VVS to bat at No. 3, it might seem okay - VVS is scoring runs and
it would be easier for Rahul to bat at No. 5. But it might turn the other
way round as well. If on a good ball, VVS gets out, there is already
pressure on Rahul, and if he comes in with three wickets down early, there
will be more pressure. It's really tough to battle that. If you're coming
in at No. 3, you come in at one wicket down, and that gives you the
freedom to play your natural game."
Dravid apart, India certainly did that in Chennai. And after storming home
with 20.3 of the day's scheduled overs still to be bowled, Dhoni was
certain that it would affect the sort of targets set for India in
future. "We were criticised when we didn't declare in the series against
Australia," he said. "Well, the first preference is to save a game. Being
brave is very important but you can't be foolish. So from a point where
you have the control of the game, you shouldn't give the opposition even a
chance of winning the game.
"Once the opposition knows that it can't win a match, they just look to
defend, and that's the time when you can really attack them more, push
them to the back foot. There was that famous Test match when the Indian
team was given the follow-on and it went on to win the game. And after
that, we've seen a number of international sides not giving the follow-on.
So it can start a trend, when people would like to be safe first."
With a series to square, Kevin Pietersen and England no longer have that