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England vs India: Dhoni's captaincy lets Anderson and England off the hook

Let’s get the Trent Bridge pitch out of the way first. It was flat. It was slow. It was good for batting. But none of that excuses India’s dismal bowling performance on the first morning of the fourth day.

An early wicket would have allowed India to take a handy lead of around 100 runs and potentially push for a result. Instead, poor captaincy allowed Joe Root and James Anderson – the Burnley Lara – to add a world record 198 runs for the 10th wicket and give England the unlikeliest of first innings leads.

To start with, Dhoni was content to attack Anderson alone. He pushed the fielders back for Root, taking the pressure off him. That gave Root the leeway to shield Anderson without needing to worry about getting out himself.

India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni. AFP.

India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni. AFP.

Not that Anderson needed protecting, giving the way Dhoni chose to bowl to him. Before this Test, Anderson’ highest score was 34. At any level of senior cricket, it was 49. That India had everyone thinking he could get a hundred was down to Dhoni’s baffling tactics.

Michael Vaughan summed it in up in two tweets:

Perhaps Dhoni had watched Shaminda Eranga bounce Anderson out in Sri Lanka’s famous victory at Lord’s last month and was determined to prove India could do the same. At one stage, he had Ishant and Shami bounce Anderson with nine men around the bat – but only one slip. The slowness of the pitch meant that the batsman was in position to defend the short ball well before it arrived. If this was a movie, Anderson would have been batting at normal speed while the the ball was in slow motion.

Such was the ineffectiveness of the strategy that Anderson was able to charge Shami and swat him to the deep midwicket boundary to bring up his first Test fifty. Of his 51 runs at that stage, forty had come in boundaries. Not the edgy, nervy kind either. They came from proper cricketing shots, including a few of sumptuous drives through the offside that would have been worthy of Sir Brian Charles Lara.

Such was Anderson’s confidence that he even pulled out the reverse-sweep to Ravindra Jadeja.

What made it worse was Ishant was occassionally getting the ball to move off the seam when he pitched it up, and even beat Root a few time with genuine outswingers.
On a pitch such slow bounce, pitching the ball up and getting Anderson to come forward with men in the slips would have been worth a try. Yet Dhoni seemed convinced there was only way way to get the fast bowler out, even if it that tactic had not worked for three and a half hours.

It was predictable cricket of the worst kind from India’s captain as he once again allowed a Test match his team had controlled to drift away from him.

Then, there was his treatment of Stuart Binny. India were praised for going into the match with five bowlers and their captain MS Dhoni for being willing to bat at No. 6. Yet Dhoni gave Binny just 10 overs out of 144.5 that India sent down in the innings . He even chose to use Murali Vijay - who Rahul Dravid charitably described on commentary as someone who bowls in the nets - before he gave the ball to Binny.

India's Ishant Sharma reacts while England's Joe Root, left, runs during day four of the first test between England and India at Trent Bridge cricket ground in Nottingham, England, Saturday, July 12, 2014. PTI.

India's Ishant Sharma reacts while England's Joe Root, left, runs during day four of the first test between England and India at Trent Bridge cricket ground in Nottingham, England, Saturday, July 12, 2014. PTI.

That meant Ishant Sharma bowled 38 overs in the innings, Ravindra Jadeja 35, Bhuvneshwar Kumar bowled 30.5 overs, and Mohammed Shami 29. Essentially, Dhoni turned India into a team with 10 men and a subsitute fielder. He did this to Binny on his one-day debut too, giving him just one over and preferred to use Ambati Raydu, who doesn’t even bowl in first-class cricket.

If there was a text book way to destroy a players’confidence and self-belief, this would be it. It also increased the workload on his leading bowlers in only the first Test of the first five Test series any of them are playing.

The most damning moment came when Anderson eventually got out. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, the best India bowler on show, pitched it up and pushed it across the batsman. It drew England’s No. 11 forward on the drive and the result was a healthy edge. Dhoni had only a second slip in place, but luckily for India Dhawan was able to dive to his right and take a good low catch.

By then England had taken a 39-run lead and turned the Test match on its head. They had been 202 for 7 and then 298 for 9 on day three. They can thank Dhoni as well as the Trent Bridge pitch that it all changed on day four.

Updated Date: Jul 14, 2014 08:59 AM

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