Before the Test, MS Dhoni was asked about the likelihood of Harbhajan Singh playing in the second Test. “He will have to wait for now,” Dhoni said, giving away nothing. “It (two seamers and two spinners) gives more balance to the side. Generally, the first day wicket is quite good to bat on. There is not much turn for them.
So, it will be difficult to restrict the batsmen,” he had said. So Alastair Cook must have skipped a few heartbeats when his counterpart passed on the team sheet during the toss. MS Dhoni threw caution to the wind by picking Harbhajan instead of a new-ball partner for Zaheer Khan.
It was at Mohali in the opening game of the 2006 drawn series (1-1) that India had last fielded three frontline slow bowlers, with Harbhajan being part of the trio along with the Anil Kumble and Piyush Chawla. For the statistically inclined, it was also in a series against England that two off-spinners played in the same Test on Indian soil when Harbhajan and Sarandeep Singh turned out in the same game in Bangalore in December 2001.
So was this another of Dhoni’s mind games which he’s becoming quite adept at? During the 2009 World T20 in England, Dhoni had admitted that he wanted to keep his opponents guessing. It was one of the reasons why he didn’t reveal Virender Sehwag’s injury Test.
Now, back to this Test. Given that the Wankhede surface usually aids the quicks, could Ishant Sharma have made a difference? Perhaps, Dhoni reckons that Sharma’s length – slightly on the three-quarter side – would help the tourists more. Umesh Yadav is a better exponent of the reverse swing, which Dhoni had alluded to.
With Yadav sitting out because of a sore lower back, the Indian captain may have thought it fit to field his best bowlers rather than the two-plus-two combination. We’ll have to wait till the fourth innings to know if the gambit has worked.