Stand-in Dhoni bowls pies with spice to give Kev food for thought
Anyone who missed the drama and saw only the figures, might advise MS Dhoni, quite forcefully, against giving up the day job. But with a touch of luck – and, more to the point – a touch of the bat, India's action man would have broken Kevin Pietersen's heart yesterday.
There were at least a couple of part-time bowlers (Sachin Tendulkar and Suresh Raina spring to mind) who could have helped the tourists out of the hole in which they found themselves once Zaheer Khan's worrying hamstring injury reduced a four-man attack to three.
But those who really know Dhoni, like Sunil Gavaskar, predicted that India's charismatic captain would rip off his wicket-keeping pads and award himself the difficult task of delivering Zaheer's "missing" overs. Gavaskar was right – and Dhoni's decision was damn near inspired.
You could almost hear Pietersen thinking "oh no" once he looked up and saw who had the ball in his hand straight after lunch. This was the batsman, after all, who fell in rather embarrassing circumstances to another occasional Indian bowler, Yuvraj Singh, a few years ago and then tried to hide his discomfort by calling the spinner a "pie-chucker."
Well, if Dhoni was serving up medium-paced pies yesterday, several of them were clearly covered with spicy sauce. His first delivery had KP in enough of a tangle for bowler and temporary keeper Rahul Dravid to shout for lbw. Then, midway through the captain's second over, Pietersen had to be reprieved by the decision review system (that part of it not vetoed by India) after being given out, caught behind, for 73.
The appeals by Dhoni and Dravid were genuine but while umpire Billy Bowden agreed with them about the outside edge, "hot spot" showed that ball had passed bat without making contact.
That was as near as Dhoni came to dashing Pietersen's century dream. But the man who had previously bowled only three overs, in three separate Tests, had rattled KP's cage and performed creditably enough to give himself another spell later in the day.
Dhoni is not the first keeper to remove his pads and have a trundle in Test cricket. Indeed, Tatenda Taibu took a wicket for Zimbabwe a few years ago. Perhaps Dhoni has, inadvertently, found a potential answer to the old problem of how to strengthen your attack without weakening the batting. In any event, don't be too surprised if you spot Matt Prior bowling off 20 paces before the next Test at Trent Bridge for it may no longer be enough for a keeper to catch edges and score sparkling 70s.
It is fairly unlikely, though, that any stumper will match the performance of Alan (A C) Smith, the former Warwickshire keeper and ex-Test and County Cricket Board chief executive. Tired of standing behind the wicket during a championship match against Essex in 1965, he brought himself on to bowl and promptly took a hat-trick.
India could have done with something like that yesterday as England built a commanding total after being put in. Still, India enjoyed one piece of luck when Eoin Morgan was given out for nought in curious circumstances. Dhoni, back behind the stumps, pouched the delivery and umpire Asad Rauf upheld Praveen Kumar's appeal for a catch behind. Morgan wandered off without complaint, but replays suggested he did not touch the ball and the suspicion was he may have thought the verdict was lbw.
The incident supported the argument that the decision review system should be used in its entirety or not at all. As things stand here, Morgan could not have referred his dismissal for lbw but could have done for a catch behind. Confused? So may he have been.
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