England vs India fourth Test comment: India need Dhoni to get his eye back on the ball

 

Whatever Jimmy Anderson does or does not think of M S Dhoni, there is no doubt that Dhoni is one of the coolest customers in cricket. According to the judicial commissioner’s report of the disciplinary hearing which followed the notorious lunchtime incident at Trent Bridge, Anderson referred to Dhoni as a “f****** fat c***”.

If cricket is trying to rid itself of this sort of language there is no need for this newspaper to repeat it in all its ingloriousness. Anderson rather missed the point.

Dhoni has led India in 56 Test matches, easily a record for the country, and to World Cup and Champions Trophy triumphs. Anderson should know that this involves rather more than portliness and surliness.

But there is some evidence to suggest that Dhoni is being distracted by peripheral events which are undermining his team’s efforts in the absorbing Test series. After a glorious win at Lord’s to put them 1-0 ahead, India were lamentable at Southampton, outplayed and losing all 13 sessions.

Part of this was because of England’s unexpected excellence but part of it also seemed to be because Dhoni and India took their eye off the ball. Dhoni clearly sees the encounter between Anderson and Ravindra Jadeja on the second day of the first Test as a personal mission for justice. He has made it clear that he thinks Anderson to be guilty and Jadeja to be innocent.

Video: Dhoni criticises Anderson reprieve

Whether it stops with the verdict of the judicial commissioner that both were not guilty (ultimately the judge, Gordon Lewis, could not believe either side) remains to be seen. The ICC, the only body which can appeal against the decision, has until Friday to do so. Presumably, India must ponder whether it is worth using their considerable heft to persuade the ICC on what course to take.

Dhoni would be better to forget it. His intransigence over the Decision Review System, which is showing no sign of abating, is already blighting the series. There is a growing body of feeling that Dhoni does not fully understand how DRS operates and that the facts are pure and simple: umpiring errors are reduced by its use. India are the only country who continue to refuse to use it.

Some of Dhoni’s fields are becoming increasingly bizarre. At Southampton he was content for long periods to try to contain England and, while that worked on the first day, England’s maintenance of their wickets meant they had plenty of power to add later.

He appeared to want to keep what was so hard won at Lord’s and in doing so may have confused his bowlers and exposed his side to defeat. None of these India players has taken part in a five-Test series before and the draining nature of such a concerted campaign will begin to tell this week.

Dhoni has often been an oddball strategist – and often it has worked – but now he has to be a wise counsellor to his men. It is his team far more than it is the coach Duncan Fletcher’s team. What Dhoni says goes, as Trent Bridge showed.

After this, India’s next assignment is with Australia, where they will play four Tests in December and January. On what has been seen so far, there will be no change there for them. Dhoni, who still loves playing, would surely struggle to survive dual defeats in England and Australia.

But this series is there to be won and if he can marshal sufficient reserves of stamina and of nous, remind his bowlers what works and his batsmen how to play Test innings, India can still prevail. Dhoni, the former railway clerk from Ronchi, may be the key. Judge Lewis’s parting shot in the Anderson-Jadeja spat was that the ICC code of conduct needed reforming. Dhoni should leave it at that.

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