As has been the case all through this intriguing Test, the final day too had twists and turns. The narrow first innings lead had reduced this Test to a second innings shootout. With England needing 214 runs and 6 wickets in hand for a win on the final day, it was a cat and mouse game at Lord’s, where tactics changed with every wicket or even a few hits to the fence.
Rain was expected, the ball was losing shine, it was a day when a skipper had to take a number of tough calls. Here’s how MS Dhoni, often referred as the shorter-version general who runs out of ideas in Tests, set up smoke screens, laid mine fields, retreated, charged, and, finally conquered.
Starting with 7-2: England: 105/4. Target: 319. Dhoni starts with Ravindra Jadeja from the Nursery End. Michael Holding from the commentary box isn’t happy, he wants a pacer. From the pavilion end, Ishant Sharma bowls to a 7-2 field. Dhoni wants his tallest and fastest bowler to bowl outside off as he did during the final hour on Sunday.
Sharma bothers Joe Root with balls that first seem to be going down the Lord’s slope but hold its line after pitching. Root edges, the ball falls just in front of Shikhar Dhawan at first slip. The cordon looks at each other. They think of taking a step ahead, but decide against it. India miss the first chance of the day. Dhoni’s Plan A almost comes off.
Jaldi karo, barish hai: It’s 11:30 am. There is a sudden cloud cover over Lord’s. The floodlights are on. Dhoni shouts from behind the stumps: “Jaldi karo, barish aane wali hai”. Out of the blue, Shikhar Dhawan is thrown the ball. He is taken off after one over.
Dhoni’s Plan B has Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami bowling in tandem. The heavy workload is showing on Bhuvneshwar as he can’t get pace or bounce. A slight drizzle starts, trickle of runs continue. Dhoni is restless. The field changes, now its 6-3. The slip cordon has taken the step ahead but there are no edges. Rahane is heard on the stump mic ‘bas ek wicket chahiye’. The elusive wicket doesn’t come. The captain has one hand behind him and the other on his face. He is thinking hard.
Withdrawn keeper: He brings Jadeja back, who goes around the wicket to the right-hander Root in an attempt to sneak in the armer. He bowls fast but Root keeps his left foot out of the way and plays with an angled bat to send the ball to square.
Dhoni, meanwhile, is standing about 5 yards behind the stumps, a never-seen before scene on a cricket field. Jadeja says this was because he bowls fast, Dhoni has one more reason. “Rules say you can’t have three fielders on the leg. I wanted Virat to stand slightly wide and I didn’t want a snick on the leg side to go between me and him,” he said. The snick never materialised, but Dhoni did save byes when the left-arm spinner fired one down the leg side to the left-handed Moeen Ali.
Root’s counter: Jadeja is restrictive but not getting wickets. Dhoni is thinking again. He throws the ball to Bhuvneshwar and stands close to the stumps. It’s a trick from his ODI/T20 book of captaincy. This plan is primarily to keep a check on batsmen, Root in this case, who moves forward to cut the swing. In the game’s shorter version, batsmen desperate to score quickly have famously fallen in this trap.
Root is in no hurry, he defends. Dhoni goes back for the ball. Root steps out of the crease and sends the ball racing to the point boundary. It is a battle of attrition and Root is winning it. Another plan is put through the shredder. The buzz has been triggered. Will Lord’s join Johannesburg and Wellington as the venue where the ‘Dhoni Test freeze’ happens again?
Toughest decision: It looks like Dhoni’s last throw of dice before lunch. Sharma gets the ball again. One straight, other through extra cover and final one beyond the point boundary, Root punishes three over-pitched balls from Sharma. It’s time to press panic button. Root has crossed 50, England now need less than 150. Dhoni, the captain, looks inadequate on the Test field.
The masterstroke: Dhoni tells Sharma to change plan, bowl short. The pacer is not sure. Dhoni takes out the slips and places them as leg gully and short leg. “I set such a field for him that he doesn’t even think of bowling up,” the captain says after the game. At the stroke of lunch, Moeen Ali gets a ball on ribs. He defends, gets a gloves. The ball lands into the hands of short leg. Breakthrough at last.
When to change: It’s not over yet. Matt Prior joins Root at crease. Prior’s short ball problem happens to be as popular in England as Suresh Raina’s in India. Dhoni continues with the ‘short, leg’ theory. He doubles the impact. He gets Mohammad Shami to bang it in from the other end. Bad move. Root hits Shami for 3 fours in the over, all pulled to the square fence.
Prior is also taking the Indians on. He has decided to hit out of trouble. The wicketkeeper-batsman hits Sharma for a couple of more boundaries. The short mid-wicket, square leg, fine leg are in place but England batsmen scoring. Should Dhoni continue with short balls and Sharma or go for the new ball?
Final stroke: Sharma makes it easy, Prior too helps. In the 80th over, after which the new ball is available, Prior hits into the hands of Vijay at deep mid-wicket. Dhoni’s persistence and patience pay off. Sharma is unstoppable. England fold as Ben Stokes and Stuart Broad too fall playing the horizontal bat shot. As India celebrate win, Dhoni swaggers out like he does when he wears blue.
July 21, 2014: Dhoni, the Test captain is born at Lord’s.
India’s historic wins at the Home of Cricket. A flashback:
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