Immediately after tea on Day Four of the Wellington Test, Mahendra Singh Dhoni took off his wicketkeeping gear, handed it over to Virat Kohli and came on to bowl. After the over, the roles were promptly reversed. Kohli took the pads and gloves off, gave them back to the captain and handed his cap to the umpire. The crowd cheered in amusement as the duo provided a bit of unintended comic relief after what had been another display of intense cricket by Brendon McCullum and BJ Watling.
Dhoni usually rolls his arms over in the nets. He is also predisposed to bringing himself on in matches once in a while. Usually it signals that things aren’t quite working and therefore he is trying his luck. That he is hopeful if not quite purposeful. Fair enough. At least the intent is there, of attempting to make things happen.
But on Monday, as the captain and his lieutenant took turns at bowling and keeping just before the new ball was due, they appeared rather hopeless. And McCullum and Watling, who had taken the score to 440/5 — and the lead to 194 — from a precarious 94/5 at one stage on Sunday, would have recognised the situation as such. In Dhoni and Kohli running in to bowl, they would have seen a white flag fluttering.
Bringing himself on was but a culmination of a series of questionable moves by the India captain. True, the partnership was broken as soon as the new ball was taken, with Mohammed Shami trapping Watling (124 off 367 balls), but before that it was allowed to become a world record 352-run stand, thanks to some unimaginative captaincy.
Let’s make things clear: Dhoni is a remarkable batting skipper, as he demonstrated during the Eden Park Test in Auckland, when he and Ravindra Jadeja launched into a stirring counterattack in the fourth innings, nearly pulling off a win.
But it’s as a fielding captain that the 32-year-old is prone to brain fades.
On Sunday, he had a defensive field for McCullum and Watling for long periods which essentially allowed the batsmen to settle down. It could be argued that it nearly paid off twice when McCullum played uppish drives down the wicket, but was dropped by the silly mid on fielder (Kohli) and the bowler (Ishant Sharma). But that was early on in his innings. Thereafter, his knock was pretty much chanceless.
If Dhoni was stubborn in continuing with a 2-7 field on Sunday, he was surprisingly reactive in changing the positions today. A shot through the covers would see a short extra cover being deployed continued…