It’s Day Two at Old Trafford. Varun Aaron is about to start a new spell. From the top of his run-up he sees Virat Kohli, on the captain’s instructions, move from gully to leg-slip. The pacer doesn’t like the change and objects. Dhoni overrules. Kohli moves to leg-slip and Varun is ready to bowl again.
Ravindra Jadeja is about to start a new spell. He is ready to bowl over the wicket. Dhoni asks him to go around the stumps. Almost robotically, Jadeja switches sides. No dialogue, no objection.
India skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni is doing all the thinking on field these days. Bowlers bowl to his plan and stick to the angles that are true to fields set for them. Most times in this series, all the big ideas (not always effective) have emerged from the behind the stumps.
Unlike in the past, Dhoni, in this England series, can’t be blamed for switching off or letting things drift. That allegation can now be transferred to the bowlers in the side. From a distance, certainly not a vantage point to gauge the huddle talk, it seems the bowlers shouldn’t be blamed. They are merely listening and, subsequently, following instructions. Thinking, or being imaginative, is the captain’s prerogative.
The first hint of Dhoni’s new assertive approach came after the Lord’s win last month. While experiencing the high of winning an away Test, the usually tight-lipped skipper let down his guard. At a media conference, he spoke (and really spoke in this case) about his crucial on-field interaction with a team-mate — the day’s hero Ishant Sharma. It threw light on the how India ideates these days, specifically how the short ball came into play and how Ishant got four wickets by aiming at the rib cage of the England batsman.
“It’s difficult to convince him (Ishant). When he came to bowl I told him bowl short and he turned the other way. I set the field for him so that he doesn’t even think of bowling up,” said Dhoni, after India’s historic win last month. “The strategy was to give Ishant a field so he is forced to bowl the length that I want him to bowl.”
Buoyed by Lord’s success, Dhoni has continued to set fields for his bowlers and has forced them to stick to the line he wants. Since the plan hasn’t worked, the on-field conversations haven’t again surfaced in press briefings. It’s highly unlikely that the world will ever know if Bhuvneshwar Kumar or Pankaj Singh have been comfortable to bowl with a leg-slip, fine leg and short square leg.
Old Trafford, on a cloudy day, is ideal for bowling ‘up’ — as Dhoni says. The longer the ball stays in air, they more time it gets continued…