Nagpur, Dec. 14 -- The few thousands who had turned up at the Jamtha stadium on Thursday were in for a surprise. In his bid to taste English blood in the must-win fourth Test, the India captain packed his bowling arsenal with spinners. However, it was the lone pacer in the team who proved to be the most effective at stumps on Day 1.
India fielded three specialist spinners in R Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha and Piyush Chawla, along with pacer Ishant Sharma. The spinning options were further strengthened with the inclusion of debutant Ravindra Jadeja, who was handed his Test cap by Sachin Tendulkar before the start of play.
When MS Dhoni was at the peak of his captaincy, he was known for his gambler-like instincts. Giving the final over of the 2007 T20 World Cup final against Pakistan to Joginder Sharma or promoting himself up the order in the 2011 World Cup final chase against Sri Lanka were a couple of risks that paid rich dividends.
However, over the last year-and-a-half, predictability has been evident in Dhoni's leadership. The wins are drying up, the losses mounting and his captaincy coming under serious doubt. Come another big game, Dhoni brought the old trick out of his hat once again.
The four spinners and solitary speedster managed to restrict the run flow while claiming regular breakthroughs. England ended at 199 for five, but it could have been worse had it not been for Kevin Pietersen's valiant knock. And going by Ishant's efforts, an additional speedster could have made a difference as well.
On a wicket that was slow and had low bounce, Ishant made an impressive start to the innings. First, he had Nick Compton caught behind off a ball that held its line. Soon, he brought the ball to dart in and hit Jonathan Trott's pads. Though it seemed close, a possible strike marginally outside the off-stump saved Trott.
Ishant continued to bowl the troubling line around the off-stump. A major Kumar Dharmasena blunder sent Alastair Cook back to the pavilion. While the delivery was missing off by a fair distance, the International Cricket Council's umpire of the year thought otherwise as he adjudged Cook leg before wicket. Whether the dismissal of the in-form captain has a role in India saving the series remains to be seen.
That is when the mercurial Pietersen walked in. A wicket with uneven bounce is not Pietersen's favourite, but he batted with responsibility to help the team stay afloat in the game.
He played with caution against Ishant, but attacked the slow bowlers, who were not any extracting turn. When Pietersen went down on one knee to lift Ojha above cover for a boundary, his comfort against the tweakers came to the fore.
Dhoni could also be accused of being defensive at times. When Ojha opened the bowling, he just had a slip surrounding the batsman. And once Pietersen showed glimpses of aggression, Dhoni would push the field back.
Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.