I occasionally wonder if deep down inside, in the very crevices of his intent, MS Dhoni believes his team can win in England.
He will of course say so to us, and to his team, but what he says to himself is perhaps most relevant. For it is out of that deepest, most honest, perception that all decisions stem from. There is a reason I ask this.
In the earliest part of my times spent following Indian cricket, in England, Australia and South Africa, India only lost matches. There were moments of individual glory but you never thought that team was striving to force a win. As I got to know some of those players better, I realised that was true. They didn’t believe they could win and that influenced the manner in which they took the field.
When your intent is ferocious, you scrap for every point, you feel the need to win every ball because you don’t know which one will turn the tide. You are relentless in your desire and this is something I learnt from some of my entrepreneur friends as well. Entrepreneurs are amazing people because they never lose sight of the opportunity. At our institute some years ago, some of the students asked them about the safety net in their lives when they turned entrepreneur. “If there is one” they said, “you will be tempted to take it many times. It will dilute your purpose. You will give up too easily.” How right they were for the safety net can sometimes be the danger you are unaware of.
At various times in this series, Dhoni has given the impression that he is seeking this dangerous safety net. He has taken decisions that suggest he is happy to try and hold the game where it is. If Jadeja, and more recently Ashwin, have been outbowled by Moeen Ali, it is also because he has bowled the more attacking lines. Ajinkya Rahane is an excellent player of spin bowling and he fell to the classic off-spinner’s dismissal, caught and bowled. That dismissal is rarer, and certainly not as satisfying, if achieved from a leg and middle line. But Jadeja at Southampton, where the tide turned, bowled almost exclusively on leg stump with a packed leg side field. Did Dhoni not believe that Jadeja could take wickets? If he did, the approach would have been different.
The holding player
You saw that too in the choice of Pankaj Singh over Varun Aaron. India were playing six batsmen and so Dhoni preferred the gentler workhorse over the more incisive, but perhaps more brittle, Aaron. He wanted the holding player rather than the more attacking one. If he had been prepared to lose the match in trying to win it, he would have preferred Aaron but, and this brings us back to my original thought, maybe he didn’t believe he could continued…