MS Dhoni and Alastair Cook — and their coaches — did not need hindsight to play a spinner in place of a seamer in this Test match. They could have done with a little foresight — and that’s what coaches and captains are supposed to have — or simply read the sports pages in DNA where we pointed out right before the Test match began the futility of playing seamers on this track in Ahmedabad.
Cook is the one mostly catching the flak for going in with three seamers, who only managed to get a solitary tailender’s wicket in nearly two days of bowling. But Dhoni can’t escape criticism either. If he is going to take the formulaic approach of picking two spinners and two seamers on Indian pitches, regardless of the conditions, then how is he such an astute captain as he is made out to be?
While the going was good in the first innings, when the pitch was lively and English batsmen foolish, nobody felt the absence of a third spinner. But in the follow-on, as the English openers hunkered down and the life went out of the pitch baked in the sun for three days, the wisdom of the wily Nawab of Pataudi came to mind.
Pataudi was the one who first started using a spin trio on such slow turners totally devoid of assistance for seamers. He would not have allowed the English openers Cook and Nick Compton to get set against two spinners; he would have kept rotating his three specialist spinners to give them no respite until they simply cracked under the pressure.
Dhoni did not have this option as England posted an unbeaten century opening stand in the second innings. He did ring in the changes, but the seamers Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav only provided relief to the English batsmen who picked them off for easy runs. It was the same with the use of part-timers Yuvraj and Sehwag, because they lack the accuracy to keep up the sort of pressure that a specialist spinner can exercise on a turning track.
When Harbhajan Singh made a brief appearance as a substitute, loosening his arms, Dhoni would have kicked himself for not having him in the playing eleven in place of either Umesh Yadav or Zaheer Khan. Bhajji has lost his old form but the bloke has 400 plus wickets, and anybody would rather have him bowling on the Ahmedabad pitch than Umesh Yadav. If the selectors had picked leg-spinner Amit Mishra, who got four English wickets in 17 overs in a warm-up game on an easier track than this, it would have been even harder for the Englishmen.
Indian batsmen got no respite on their tours to England and Australia. There were three, sometimes four seamers constantly at them — if a seamer got jaded or you got used to one, another one equally dangerous would take his place. The Indian batting lineup wilted under this pressure. But here, in this revenge series, we have only one option, Ashwin and Ojha bowling in tandem. If a partnership gets set, there is nowhere to turn for Dhoni.
Zaheer and Umesh did get a wicket each in the English first innings, thanks to kind umpires — both those LBWs were given to balls missing leg stump. But even those were not top order batsmen. In fact, the two seamers were quite useless in the Indian attack and it would have been no different if we had lost the toss and bowled first. The three English seamers did not get a single wicket on that first day, and it was the lone the lone English specialist spinner who picked up all the four wickets that fell.
With support from a full-time spinner at the other end for Swann, England could have competed better, but their think tank was even worse than India’s — they picked a third seamer Tim Bresnan and left out left-arm spinner Monty Panesar.