M S Dhoni would currently fit the bill of a lead character for a Shakespearean tragedy. His tactics flopped badly in the third Test leading to a massive 266-run loss. Worse, India’s Level 3 Offence charge against James Anderson fizzled out most ignominiously. Defeated, deflated, down in the dumps, what’s the way out? In my opinion, there is a cause-and-effect connection between the events mentioned above which have brought Dhoni to this predicament. But first up one must look at ICC Judicial Commissioner Gordon Lewis’s decision that found neither Anderson nor Ravindra Jadeja guilty in the much-touted controversy.
If not extraordinary, it’s certainly quirky that Lewis should have seen the matter so differently from fellow-Aussie match referee David Boon who had held Jadeja guilty of a Level 1 Offence and fined him 50 percent of his Nottingham Test fee.Everybody expected the England fast bowler to cop a two-Test ban as prescribed. But Lewis, lo and behold, has held that the entire fracas was no more than a storm in a teacup.
Perhaps the arguments made by the Indian management were not forceful enough. Perhaps England’s defence was technically immaculate. From an administrative perspective, though, Boon’s interpretation of the event had been hit for a six by the judicial commissioner. What then is the big deal of having a match referee? It’s a question that will obviously irk Boon, who has been emphatically downsized. But going ahead, this erosion in credibility of the match referee must also bother the ICC.
None of this, however, had any bearing on India’s dismal performance in the third Test which allowed England to draw level. If anything, India’s insistence on blowing up the Jadeja-Anderson controversy boomeranged on them and was one of the major factors in the staggering defeat. I believe Dhoni was guilty of two bummers going into the Rose Bowl Test: his press conference on the eve of the match centred around the Jadeja-Anderson controversy rather than on the match, and second, he showed up his pusillanimity by including and extra batsman despite being a Test up.
I don’t doubt that Dhoni is convinced about Jadeja’s innocence and Anderson’s guilt in the altercation. Stout-hearted support of a player is also what you expect from a captain. But official complaint lodged, he should have waited for the matter to be played out according to protocol rather than create a hullabaloo about it. This was not only a strain on energy and focus, but would have obliquely also galvanised the English team into raising their performance.
India, remember, had done this superbly at Lord’s when the controversy first broke. More pertinently, the decision to play a sixth batsman exposed an inexplicably defensive state of mind in the Indian camp. One up in the series, Dhoni should have gone in for the kill and tried to seal the series rather than play safe. A five-bowler attack in the first two Tests had paid him dividends. The logic of including an extra batsman as insurance against defeat may have been passable in the context of a three-Test series but sent out all the wrong signals in a five-Test context.
At the highest level, sport is played first in the mind and then on the field. Statements, body language, team selections reveal a state of mind. Dhoni walked out for this match with his tail between his legs, as it were, rather than body, head held high. England were looking for just this weak-kneed response to strike back. Aided by dropped catches, poor bowling and mindless batting, they not only won the Test, but also the psychological advantage and India are back to square one.
Saddled with a demoralized side, hit by injuries and poor form Dhoni must wonder how much the world has changed in the fortnight since the famous win at Lord’s. But to come to terms with the effects and lift his side out of the rut, he must first understand the cause.