Did Mahendra Singh Dhoni fix the fourth Investec Test match between Indian and England at Manchester in August 2014?
People may be trying to settle old scores, but scoreboards don't lie. One look at it and you would know why it is insane to even consider the possibility that the Indian captain willingly threw away the match at Manchester.
But, Sunil Dev, who was manager of the Indian team on that tour, believes the match was fixed by Dhoni. Dev was caught in a sting video by a Hindi daily Sun Star saying, "Given the conditions of the pitch due to rain, we have decided to bowl first in a team meeting but I was surprised that Dhoni opted to bat first."
Dev then goes on to say that he brought the issue to the BCCI's notice and also wrote a letter to then Board president N Srinivasan, which he typed in former chief's office in front of him because he did not want the report to be leaked. When asked did the board take any action, he replied it seems BCCI was not affected by it as they have not reacted yet on the issue.
The Devil is in the detail, Mr Dev.
Perhaps Dev did not look at the scorecard of the match before pointing fingers at Dhoni. If he had, he would known Dhoni was the only batsman trying to score some runs and save the Test match. When you are the top scorer in the first innings, play what experts call the best innings of your life in England, battle hard for survival in the second innings, are you trying to save the game or lose it in a hurry? Any thoughts, Mr Dev?
Back to Manchester then.
The Test match in question was played between August 7 and 9 under a dark sky, amidst continuous rain interruptions. By the time India reached Manchester, the series was tied 1-1 after India won the second Test at Lord's and lost the next.
The match started a little late because of overnight rain and morning drizzle. In spite of the rain, the pitch was dry, devoid of grass and looked like a piece of crisp biscuit, almost perfect to bat on.
Naturally, when Dhoni won the toss, he opted to bat. Guess what England captain Alastair Cook said on losing the toss?
"We would have also liked to bat first on this pitch."
So, what is Dev trying to tell us? That Dhoni deliberately batted first on a pitch even England would have loved to bat on?
We don't know what transpired at the team meeting. Only Dhoni can tell us if the unanimous decision was to field first. But the decision to bat first was based on cricketing logic.
India were playing two spinners--Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin--in the match. Dhoni must have been hoping that they will take advantage of cracks in a dry track in the fourth innings of the match.
But his plan backfired within minutes when India lost four wickets for just eight runs. M Vijay 0, Gautam Gambhir 4, Cheteshwar Pujara 0, Virat Kohli 0, were back in the hut within five overs.
India recovered from the disastrous start and went on to score 152 runs. This was mainly because Dhoni scored 72 and stayed right till the end--his was the ninth wicket to fall. He fell in a bid to score some quick runs as he ran out of partners.
The drama in the second innings was almost similar. After England scored 367, Indian batsmen kept the dressing room door revolving with their quick return to the pavilion. Dhoni walked in when India were already 4-61, he scored 27 as wickets kept falling. India were all out for all out for 161, losing by an innings.
Two things are clear from the scorecard: If Dhoni was really betting on India losing the match, he was trying his best not to lose the Test but whatever money he -- or the bookies he may have been allegedly helping -- had wagered. And, if the match was fixed, the entire Indian team was complicit. Could Dhoni have co-opted Gambhir (returning after a gap of 18 months), Vijay (trying to seal his place in the team), Pujara, Rahane (a rookie on the circuit) and Kohli? If he somehow managed to buy the entire team, Dhoni must be credited with turning Indian team into an Ocean's Eleven.
It was raining continuously at Manchester during the Test match. Rain was forecast on all five days. It is possible that Dhoni made a mistake by batting under an overcast sky. And the batsmen let India down by not fighting till the end and surrendering too early.
But, the score card suggests Dhoni was perhaps guilty of not reading the weather right, not the game or the pitch.
Perhaps India need to think about sending a good weathermen with the team instead of managers who cast dark clouds of suspicion over our heroes without credible evidence.
Here's the video of the sting operation by Sunstar