Anand Vasu: Dhoni’s cunning plan outfoxes England

The Indian Angle

Motera Stadium

There exists a template to winning Test matches in India, and Mahendra Singh Dhoni has become the latest in a long line of captains who deploy this to best effect. On a pitch that only briefly had anything in it for the bowlers, late on the second day and spilling over to the third morning, Dhoni ensured that his bowlers used every trick in the book.

When the turn that was there to be had was married with enough bounce to allow edges to carry, India smothered England's batsmen with spin. Jonathan Trott could have scarcely felt more claustrophobic than when he walked out for his first bat of the series, four men crouching around him and the spinners barely pausing to catch their breath between deliveries. Even before he could settle into a routine, Trott had been and gone, having made the mistake of playing the game at the tempo dictated by the bowlers.

By the fourth day, with all pace having been beaten out of the track by the rollers and the harsh Ahmedabad sun, Dhoni switched tactics. The field spread slightly for the spinners, still staying within earshot, but charged with choking the run flow rather than snapping up catches. It was the fast bowlers who were asked to attack, and they did so not with three slips and a gully, but by homing on the stumps. Zaheer Khan, the master of reverse swinging the ball both ways in subcontinental conditions, was entrusted with the job of planting doubt in the minds of batsmen. Umesh Yadav, young, energetic and blessed with the natural strength that allows him to bend his back even in the most enervating conditions, pushed for wickets.

If the spinners had caused the implosion of the first innings, it was the quick bowlers who kept embarrassment at bay in the second dig. Every time a batsman threatened to link up with Alastair Cook, a wicket was prised out, and though the odd fortuitous decision was won, the quality of the interrogation was such that it was only a matter of time.

Winning matches on slow pitches requires patience and collective effort, and this was precisely why Dhoni did not put all his eggs in one basket and play three spinners, as several experts had suggested in the lead-up to the Test. Having read the pitch correctly, something England cannot claim to have done, Dhoni reaped the rewards, with contributions from everyone save Sachin Tendulkar, who has done enough to enjoy the odd day off.

Recent history tells us that India – and they're not alone in this – are poor travellers, but, at home, they appear as impregnable as ever. The fact that they produced such a strong performance on a surface that was not ideally suited to their plans will only inflate their resolve.

For some time now, Dhoni has pleaded for pitches that take the toss out of the equation, for surfaces that aid spinners from the first ball of the game. He has argued that playing on under-prepared pitches or ones that deteriorate suddenly on the fourth or fifth day does not amount to home advantage. All he's asked for, is a surface that keeps bowlers in the game consistently and tests batsmen properly, for he backs his own to come good at home. At some point in this series, Dhoni will get his wish, and then England will realise why India are kings at home.

Anand Vasu is managing editor of Wisden India

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