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Who will Dhoni repose faith in for the Old Trafford Test?

Last updated on: August 05, 2014 18:17 IST

Who will Dhoni repose faith in for the Old Trafford Test?

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With bowling mainstay Ishant Sharma ruled out, and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar complaining of fatigue, India's captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, has limited bowling options at his disposal and problems aplenty ahead of the fourth Test at Old Trafford, writes Chandresh Narayanan.

By now, Mahendra Singh Dhoni's Twitter handle would have been flooded with lots of unsolicited advice.

It is a familiar story for Dhoni, who survived eight successive defeats overseas with an aging side in 2011-12.

But now, in the second phase of his captaincy, especially in Tests, minus the aging seniors, he faces a task stiffer than ever before.

And all the advice he would be getting, after the loss in the Southampton Test, may well revolve around team selection for the next Test at Old Trafford.

If we go back in time a little, more than the batting, it was the bowling department that resulted in Team India gaining much-needed respect overseas in the early 2000s.

The likes of Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Virender Sehwag and, of course, Sachin Tendulkar shored up the batting line-up, but it was the bowling that made all the difference.

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Image: India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni
Photographs: Michael Steele/Getty Images

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There is a reason why Dhoni has backed Ishant

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Those advising Dhoni forget that he does not have the luxury of a Sourav Ganguly or a Rahul Dravid to pick from or, for that matter, a young Zaheer Khan or Harbhajan Singh or a wily Anil Kumble at his disposal.

Together, the bowling trio, along with Javagal Srinath, Ajit Agarkar, Ashish Nehra, RP Singh and Shantakumaran Sreesanth, played a crucial role in India's improved away record in the early and mid-2000s.

But, since then, with a generation of bowlers fading into the sunset -- Kumble retiring and Sreesanth dancing his way to 'glory' these days -- Dhoni's options are limited. He has no top-class spinner to pick from, the pace stocks, though promising, have no numbers to back the talent.

Dhoni has been criticised enough for persisting with Ishant Sharma in Tests, but there is a reason why he backed the tall right-armer. 

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Image: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (left) speaks with Ishant Sharma
Photographs: Gareth Copley/Getty Images

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Ishant's ability to keep coming back spell after spell endeared him to the India captain

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For close to six years Ishant is the one bowler regular in the Indian Test eleven, bowling day in and day out on some of the most unresponsive pitches.

His ability to keep coming back spell after spell is one quality that endeared him to India's captain.

And Ishant has been able to respond to the faith reposed in him by the captain. He has 25 wickets in four Tests thus far in 2014 and is the sixth highest wicket-taker in the year, at an average of 26.48.

In terms of numbers, Australia's Mitchell Johnson has 28 wickets in four Tests, at an average of 16.25.

Ishant is no Johnson, but he has made an impact in Tests for India this year.

So while Ishant caught the world's attention, Dhoni knew that six years of being patient had borne fruit at Lord's.

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Image: Ishant Sharma celebrates a wicket
Photographs: Gareth Copley/Getty Images

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Lack of quality bowling options has rendered Dhoni handicapped

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Dhoni has been handicapped by the fact that the near Test wins in 2014 slipped away because, earlier, a tired Zaheer Khan ran out of steam.

Now, going by Dhoni's own admission, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, hero of first two Tests in England, is showing signs of fatigue. Add to this the fact that Mohammed Shami has been made to bowl non-stop since his Test debut last season and you have problems on hand.

No wonder Dhoni passed the ball often to Pankaj Singh, who kept coming back for his spells with the same vigour like in his first.

Sometimes more than the critics and the observers, it is down to the captain and how he feels about a particular player. He handles the players more closely than anyone else.

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Image: India captain MS Dhoni
Photographs: Scott Heavey/Getty Images

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Yadav, Aaron have failed to impress the selectors

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So while the world is pushing for Umesh Yadav to be flown in, or a Varun Aaron to be unleashed upon the English batsmen, it is down to Dhoni to take a call ultimately.

Since his splendid bowling performance in 2012-13, when he blew away England in the Ahmedabad Test, Yadav has not shown firepower to do an encore.

Yadav, instead, has been more than game to bowl four overs in the Indian Premier League, but a Test match could be a bridge too far to cross for him in the eyes of the men who matter.

Aaron still has hope, recalled last season purely for his pace. He offers Dhoni a ray of hope because he has that X-factor none of his other bowlers have.

Of the others, Ishwar Pandey is strictly not in contention, unless there is a strange turn of events.

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Image: Umesh Yadav
Photographs: Getty Images

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Ashwin, Gambhir have an outside chance to play 4th Test

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So, in a way, even though India have 18 players in the tour party, three of them -- Stuart Binny, Ishwar Pandey and now Naman Ojha -- are out of the reckoning while Ishant is sidelined with injury.

In effect, India have 14 players to pick from for the Old Trafford Test, and Ravichandran Ashwin and Gautam Gambhir still have an outside chance.

Having picked just nine wickets in four overseas Tests in his career, Ashwin has a lot of promises to keep up to if Dhoni picks him in the team.

His nine wickets overseas have come at an average of 74.77.

It is the failure of the off-spinner to take wickets in South Africa that resulted in Dhoni pushing for Ravindra Jadeja in the Test team.

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Image: Ravichandran Ashwin
Photographs: BCCI

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Dhoni and Team India have two options at their disposal

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While India's think-tank had shown a huge leap of faith by picking Ashwin over Harbhajan Singh in 2011, it is time it shows similar faith, and maybe a bit more patience, with Ashwin.   

India has really two options in the next six days: either panic and make wholesale changes, or just believe the loss in Southampton was a blip and carry on with business as usual.

Whatever be the case, whoever they decide to play -- Gambhir, Ashwin or an Aaron -- all have not had any match practice since July 3 when they last played a tour game.

So the trio will get into Old Trafford without cricket for a month!

Unless, of course, Dhoni decides to ring his flamboyant predecessor, Farokh Engineer, a member of Lancashire County Cricket Club, to help organise a two-day match before the Test to ensure the players are match-ready!

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Image: Mahendra Singh Dhoni
Photographs: Gareth Copley/Getty Images

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