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Dhoni and Panesar show willingness to adapt
by Sunil Gavaskar
Jul 27, 2007
Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s batting in the second innings on the last day of the first Test at Lord’s showed that with good common cricketing sense, even a flamboyant batsman can bat in a responsible manner and according to the needs of the team and the situation on hand. Dhoni has shown that he has learnt from the previous occasion, when in Mumbai in a similar situation, he skied a ball to Monty Panesar and was dropped. Did he learn from that shot? No, because he hit the next ball in a similar manner and this time Monty caught him. But that shot could have been excused then, as Dhoni was playing his first full season in India colours.

What he showed at Lord’s was that here was a player who was a quick learner, as he waited for the bad ball to hit and didn’t ever try to go over the top till Michael Vaughan came on to bowl. Apart from that shot, he played most shots along the ground with the exception of the hook shot, which was hit in the air a bit, but not in a reckless manner. It was an innings that showed his maturity. In cricket, there are only so many ways one can get out, so there will be a repetition of some modes of dismissal, but the difference is when a batsman doesn’t learn and commits the same mistake. Then, one starts to doubt his cricketing intelligence. In Dhoni’s case, it’s obvious that he applies his mind to batting and doesn’t go bang-bang simply because the crowds expect it. His was a most impressive display.

Having said that, the escape by the skin of their teeth, thanks to the rains, indicates that India’s batsmen seem to have forgotten the art of batting in the last innings of a Test match. Time after time, they have failed to last out even 60 overs, and the match has ended midway through the last day. Not at Lord’s though, as the lower order applied itself gamely to the task of staying in and saving the match, if not actually win it. The three wickets that had fallen at the end of the fourth day included those of Dravid and Tendulkar, and so the feeling was that the two players with the experience of playing long innings having been dismissed, the chances of not losing the Test were remote indeed. There was good resistance from Karthik and Ganguly to start with, and then Laxman and Dhoni batted with certainty to keep the English bowlers away for a fairly long time. Dhoni was on a pair, and he took some time to get off the mark, but after that, he was batting with confidence. In a situation like India were in, it is easy to get into a defensive frame of mind, but that only allows the opposition skipper to put attacking fields and more men in catching positions. But because Laxman and Dhoni hit the bad ball for runs and thus kept England’s target in sight, the English captain couldn’t have a ring of fielders around the bat, as would have been the case if the target was so far away that India had no chance to get the runs. That’s why it was hard to understand Pietersen’s approach, as he tried to hit out wildly when the tail-enders were batting with him. If England had got another 50 runs or so, they would have been able to put more pressure on India, but maybe they were going by the weather forecast, which had predicted a rain-filled last day, and so wanted more overs to try and bowl out the Indians.

There was some comment in the English media about the over-rate by the England bowlers, for eventually they were just one wicket away from going one-up in the series. The bowlers took their time, and with the follow-throughs of modern bowlers, which are more a means of glaring at the batsman from a couple of feet away than a natural ending after delivering the ball, the over-rate does get slowed down considerably. Even the medium pacer Ryan Sidebottom often ended up close to the batsman and, the improved James Anderson too was closer to the batsman than the off-stump was. The one bowler who finished his overs quickly was Monty Panesar, and what an improved bowler he is. His line is immaculate, and he uses the crease more than when he first played Test cricket. His accuracy means that there aren’t too many scoreable deliveries from him, so England can use him as a ‘shock’ bowler as well as ‘stock’ bowler.

At the time of writing, the Indian final XI for the second Test has not been announced, but there is unlikely to be a change in the batting. The lack of athleticism means that not only are extra runs not being taken while batting, but also given away while fielding. It’s an area that India will have to look at closely sooner than later unless the batsmen score big hundreds and compensate for that lack of agility on the field. Depending on how this series goes, there could be some tough decisions that could well be taken by the selectors, where reputations and past records may not mean much. Hopefully that day will be far away, for that will mean India's batsmen will have done well in this series.

 
More Views by Sunil Gavaskar
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