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For once, captain Dhoni has valid excuses for the debacle in England

August 14, 2014 14:50 IST

For once, captain Dhoni has valid excuses for the debacle in England

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The ongoing series against England may be another lost cause, but not exactly a failure from Team India's point of view. The return to England shores has certainly yielded better results, all the criticism notwithstanding, says Bikash Mohapatra.

It was in December 2012 that Mahendra Singh Dhoni was on the cusp of attaching a rather unwanted statistic in his otherwise impressive resume.

Team India had squandered an early lead against England -- following a comprehensive victory in the opening Test in Motera, the hosts had dropped the next two in Mumbai and Kolkata – and were staring at a first series defeat on home soil in 12 years.

The fourth Test in Nagpur was a must-win. Dhoni and Co failed in their attempt. It was a first series loss on home soil for the man who led Team India to two World Cup titles and the No.1 ranking in Tests.

In the last month or so, India’s captain has found himself as a part of something that can be best described as a sequel to the 2012 saga. England again is the opponent. Team India again had the lead in the series – following a historic victory in the second Test at Lord's – and, again, it went on to lose the next two.

Again, the fifth and final Test at The Oval, starting August 15, is a must-win. As regards Team India's chances, well, let's wait for the drama to unfold.

But, before that, it is imperative to understand that in between the 2012 series and the ongoing one against England a lot has changed for the team and its captain.

Back then, Dhoni had no excuses whatsoever. After all, it was a home series against a team that had not won on Indian soil in almost 28 years.

- Coverage: India's tour of England

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Image: India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni
Photographs: Philip Brown/Reuters

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For once, captain Dhoni has valid excuses for the debacle in England

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However, he did well to cook up something after every reverse, mostly vapid excuses in a desperate bid to avoid criticism. Indians, in general, detest criticism, even if it is constructive. How can the cricket team be any different?

Most of that reasoning and analysis, though, fell on deaf ears.

On this occasion, however, Dhoni has three valid excuses.

One: This is an away series. Team India doesn't exactly have a good reputation on the road. The last trip to England shores (in 2011) ended in a 4-0 humiliation. Remember?

This trip, in comparison, is better. The team was competitive in the opener at Trent Bridge (Nottingham) and the victory in the second Test was only India’s second at Lord’s, the first in 28 years, and their sixth ever on English soil.

Besides, it was India's first Test win overseas since July 2011 – when they got the better of the West Indies at Sabina Park, Kingston, – ending a woeful run that witnessed Dhoni and Co return empty-handed from England, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.

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Image: India's Mahendra Singh Dhoni looks on during a training session
Photographs: Philip Brown/Reuters

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For once, captain Dhoni has valid excuses for the debacle in England

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Two: This team is vastly inexperienced. When England upset the applecart in the 2012 series, it had Test match veterans like Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan in its ranks. That they could do little to salvage the situation is another story altogether. In 2011, they had Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman.

When it comes to experience, the present team, for all practical purposes, has only the captain.

Besides Dhoni, who has 86 Test matches under his belt, the only other member of the team to have appeared in more than 50 Tests is Ishant Sharma (57) and even he was ruled out of both the Southampton and Manchester matches.

True, Gambhir was part of the team in Manchester. But the Manchester Test was his first since the Nagpur match mentioned above; and to say that he was more concerned about his own batting than the team’s prospects won’t be an exaggeration. Besides, his record outside the subcontinent isn't exactly enviable.

Going into a five-match series, something the team is not used to, with a bunch of inexperienced players, wasn't exactly a great option. Not that Team India had alternative.

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Image: India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni
Photographs: Scott Heavey/Getty Images

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For once, captain Dhoni has valid excuses for the debacle in England

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Three: The ongoing series is the first instance when Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli, the deemed replacements for Rahul Dravid (at No.3) and Tendulkar (at No.4) have both failed together.

Even in South Africa and New Zealand, where the team failed to get a result, the duo had made an impact. While Pujara was consistent – averaging in excess of 45 – since getting a regular berth, Kohli has suffered a slump in form for the first time in more than three years. The law of averages was bound to catch up on them and, unfortunately, for the team, it happened at the worst possible time.

With their two key players failing to make an impact, India's batting suddenly looks brittle and the English bowlers are exploiting that frailty.

When it comes to the bowlers, suffice to say, even in home conditions they rely on the batters to ensure a solid foundation to work on. Harsh it may sound, but the likes of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Pankaj Singh (no pace), Varun Aaron (no direction), Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja (no variation) may win you a match or two overseas, but are definitely not going to win you a series. Not for now, at least!

The one who could (Ishant) -- and even did at Lord's -- wasn't fit enough and succumbed after only two matches.

Considering these factors, the series may be another lost cause, but not exactly a failure from the team's point of view. Instead, it is a definite improvement from the other recent tours and a great learning experience for the players.

Bear in mind, this is a young team. If the players work hard on their weak areas, it could serve the country well in the years to come.

For Dhoni, the return to England shores has yielded better results for sure, all the criticism notwithstanding.


Image: India's captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, right, and Virat Kohli look on during a practice session
Photographs: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters

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