By Syed Khalid Mahmood
Mahendra Singh Dhoni has stunned many of his staunch supporters by adopting tactics that belied his attacking instincts and positive approach. The world had recognized Dhoni as a standout captain who lifted the morale of the side with his wisdom combined with aggression.
Dhoni had entered the Mohali Test with a very good chance of making it five out of five. Having led India to victories in his first four Tests as captain the stage was set for him to extend the brilliant run.
The England team was running short of confidence after conceding the first Test from an advantageous position and there was hardly any life for the visitors to group before rushing for the second and final Test of the series.
The Indians were basking in the glory of the successful run chase in the previous game in which they had turned it around against heavy odds. The momentum was with them and they were ideally placed to double their lead at Mohali.
Dhoni did his team a favour by winning the toss. Virender Sehwag, whose whirlwind knock in the second innings of the Chennai Test had helped India’s cause immensely, perished without scoring this time and that brought in Rahul Dravid to join Gautam Gambhir.
Dravid had been struggling to get runs on the board but Gambhir was in the middle of a purple match. They did build a partnership to deny England further success for more than a day but it wasn’t the kind of stuff that would have enhanced their reputation. They added 314 for the second wicket but consumed nearly 108 overs.
If it was not enough all the batsmen following the marathon partnership also went into their shells. It was hard to believe what was happening. It was difficult to imagine why the dead-batting was carried out in such a dominating position.
Dravid faced 328 balls for his 136 and VVS Laxman made a 24-ball duck. It was the time when India needed their stroke-makers to fire after the strong base provided by Dravid and Gambhir. Even the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh refused to bat with any sense of urgency. Dhoni wasn’t an exception either. The normally free-stroking skipper was content in killing time rather than scoring runs.
India played out 158.2 overs to score 453 in their first innings. They could have easily scored over 550 after occupying the crease for so long. They were also aware of the fact that the play was to be curtailed every day in the prevailing weather conditions. They needed to score briskly in order to make up for the loss of time but their intentions caught people by surprise.
The manner in which the England batsmen scored on the third day despite losing two wickets for literally nothing it became clear that the Indians had intentionally slowed down the game on the first couple of days and there was nothing wrong in the pitch.
The Indian bowlers fought back to earn 151-run first innings lead. Still there was time to force a result but the Indian batsmen chose to bat out time instead of putting runs on the board to get England in again.
The late declaration on the fifth and final day simply confirmed that the Indians were not interested in going for a win. These were the tactics the Indian teams of the past used to adopt once they had taken an early lead in the series but it was not expected from the Indian team of modern times that has set high standards and brought glory more regularly than ever before.
December 24, 2008