Captain MS Dhoni was right to blame his spinners for letting England get so many runs on a spin-friendly track. But India were let down by poor strategy, not just by poor bowling or batting. Here are examples of how Dhoni lost the plot in the second Test.
Left-arm spin underused
India batted first and it was Monty Panesar, not England’s main spinner Graeme Swann, who dismantled our top order. Most batsmen are right-handed, and we have seen before that they find the left-arm spinner harder to negotiate on a pitch with sharp turn and bounce like the one at the Wankhede. Michael Clark and Murali Kartik finished a Test in three days on that reddish brown soil.
Dhoni therefore missed a trick by giving Yuvraj Singh only three overs in this match. Just because he went into the match with two off-spinners did not mean he had to give 63 overs to them in the England first innings, which fetched them only one top-order batsman’s wicket, that of the left-handed Alastair Cook. In fact, if the Indian captain had thought out of the box, after seeing what Panesar had done, he could have asked Zaheer Khan also to bowl quick left-arm spin. With three left-arm spinners coming at him, it’s unlikely that Kevin Pietersen would have got to 186 and taken the game away from India.
Once Pietersen sorted out Ojha, he should have had to contend with Yuvraj, who has a different action, and perhaps Zaheer too. Instead the pressure was let off by easy runs from the off-spinners, especially Harbhajan Singh, while he defended against Ojha. The left-armer who has dismissed him six times, including a caught-and-bowled in the practice game before this Test series, hardly got to bowl to Pietersen.
Panesar’s pace was key
When the pitch is loose and rough, you don’t have to flight the ball to get turn. It’s more dangerous when the left-arm spinner fires the ball in flat as Panesar was doing, because the ball will grip and turn anyway on that surface. As Dhoni himself said after the match, the pace at which Panesar bowled made the difference, because it gave the batsmen no time to adjust to the spin. Pragyan Ojha should have thought of this himself, but why did the captain and coach not advise him to bowl quicker and flatter like Panesar did?
Sachin Tendulkar has seen more games on that Wankhede wicket than all the rest of them put together; why did he not tell Ojha how to make things harder for Pietersen? Why did he not ask his friend Zaheer Khan to have a go with left-arm spin, or at least cutters? The great man is helping Dhoni little with the bat; the least he can do is compensate with a few good ideas.
Clueless captain and coach
The Indian think tank is running on empty. Strangely enough, both the rival coaches, Duncan Fletcher of India and Andy Flower of England, have their roots in Zimbabwe. But what a difference between the two! Fletcher contributed zilch when we toured England, while Flower – one of the few overseas batsmen to have thrived in Indian conditions – has turned the England team around after their disastrous start. So let’s not simply compare spinners as Dhoni is happy to do, let’s compare the coaches and captains too. Given his form with the bat, Dhoni can barely justify his place in the Test side, let alone the Test captaincy. Maybe it’s time for him to focus only on one-day cricket as he has been threatening to do.