Melbourne: Nearly an hour and half has passed on Day Two. Australia have added 97 runs in just 17 overs. Steve Smith is well past his hundred and Mitchell Johnson is once again threatening to take the game away with the bat. MS Dhoni out of desperation, tosses the ball to his premier spinner, Ravichandran Ashwin.
When asked at the conclusion of the day if he was surprised to have waited that long to bowl, Ashwin stated, “Not really. I thought if we had a breakthrough, I would come in handy against Johnson.”
What’s in MSD’s mind?
Incredibly, it still took seven overs for Ashwin to come to bowl after Johnson walked out to the crease. What was Dhoni thinking out in the middle? Whatever it is, it seems erroneous, mind-boggling and unbelievable. Ashwin also went on to state, “The idea was to exploit the new ball as much as possible. This is what I think. I hope it stays that way.”
From Ashwin’s statements it is fair to say India had plans set in concrete and Dhoni was not prepared to deviate from them as per the situation. Yes, the new Kookaburra ball is only effective for the first 20 overs but when runs are leaking from the fast bowlers, surely it’s time to alter plans.
Day Two was not the first time Dhoni has failed to turn to Ashwin for impact. In the second innings in Brisbane, Ashwin was not used at all. Yes, the pitch was assisting seamers but Australia’s top scorer in that second innings — Chris Rogers — has had a torrid time against spin bowlers in the past 12 months. In contrast, Nathan Lyon had bowled as early as the sixth over in the first innings at Adelaide. Australia were proactive and willing to experiment while India stuck to a methodical approach despite not being able to execute and succeed.
The other issue is that the India bowlers cannot create their own plans, or if they do, they are likely to be overruled by Dhoni. Constantly throughout the series, Dhoni can be heard saying “edar se daal sakta hai” (you can bowl around the wicket) and “do log peche rakh saakta hai” (you can keep two men back).
Although it seems to be optional thoughts, it is more of a demand. Even when Ryan Harris was on nine, the field was scattered and Mohammed Shami bowled both sides of the wicket, far too full and far too short. For a moment you could have stopped Shami in his run and asked him how he was planning to get the batsmen out and Shami would have struggled to provide an answer. It probably summed up India’s strategy, captaincy and mindset.