There are five things that MS Dhoni needs to do to keep the consistency going in the third Test match.
Number one, he needs to do is to keep his players hungry. Indian teams in the past have been in this situation and got carried away with the euphoria of a win, the accolades and slipped from there. The most important thing for Dhoni and Duncan Fletcher is to keep everyone on their toes. I hope they’re practicing and training in Southampton. I know they needed a three-day break, which is absolutely fine; get your bodies fresh and come back hungry for the Southampton Test match. That’s the first and foremost criteria for India at the moment.
Secondly, the pitch will be a very important one. I’ve always said that India have done well on pitches that help the bowlers. If you look at the wins around the world – in Perth, Durban, Headingley and Nottingham – those pitches were green and that made our bowlers capable of picking up 20 Test wickets. I think England will have no other choice but to prepare green pitches in Southampton and the next two Test matches. The reasons are, firstly, that they don’t have a spinner.
Although Moeen Ali has done a good job, they know that the only way they can pick 20 wickets is to prepare pitches that will help their seamers. That’s a good thing for India. For MS Dhoni, it’s important to assess the pitch. I know that Dhoni over the years has stuck to his XI and I don’t see him changing the team. It’s the right way to go. It’s a policy that helps players develop and flourish and be safe and pressure-free and perform in an environment in which they know that the captain backs them. It’s important that Dhoni continues with the same side. Yes, there are questions about Stuart Binny, but looking at how Dhoni goes about his job I don’t see any change in the side.
Number three: I don’t consider this as something Dhoni must do, but something he can ponder. On flat pitches, Dhoni at No 6 is fine, but on pitches that are green he may just get the feeling that he’s a bit higher up. So is there a case for Rohit Sharma? Make him bat at No 6 because Stuart Binny hasn’t bowled enough in this Test series. Bring in Rohit Sharma at No 6, bat Dhoni at No 7 and then play four bowlers – Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami and Ravindra Jadeja. You’ve got Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan to bowl a few overs.
When you look at this English top order, other than Ian Bell who is struggling for form, none of the batsmen, whether it’s [Alastair] Cook, [Gary] Ballance, or [Sam] Robson, will take the game away from you. They are accumulators, people who bat, bat and bat to get runs in Test cricket. There’s no [Kevin] Pietersen, no [Marcus] Trescothick, no [Andrew] Flintoff who can take the game away from you in a session. So Dhoni as a captain will always have control of the game. From that point of view, he can always consider bringing in Rohit Sharma to bat at No 6. India need to get ahead of this Test match, to get 450 in one of their innings.
Fourth, which is very important for MS Dhoni, is to make sure he gets Mohammed Shami back on track. Ishant Sharma has been splendid and Bhuvneshwar Kumar has been a revelation on this tour. His attitude has made the dressing room a lot stronger, gutsier. It’s a very infectious thing in the dressing room, that if the players start to believe that ‘if he can do it, I can too’ and that helps players get better. More than Bhuvneshwar’s bowling, its his batting that has made the players believe that if he at No 7 or 8 can bat against the new ball, then we can as well. And that’s a big boost for the Indian batting line-up.
The last and most important thing is that Dhoni should have learnt from the Lord’s Test. If you look at the Test in Johannesburg when Dhoni went out and batted first, India almost won. Here, India were forced to bat first but they would have probably bowled first on that surface, because they lost the toss. Here is a lesson for Dhoni in overseas conditions: if you take pressure early on, it goes back on the opposition when they bat fourth. So even if it’s a 50-50 or a doubtful pitch where you feel that it may seam or bounce or be a bit more helpful for the bowlers – bat. That’s the only way you can win Test matches. It’s a risk you have to take early on, but it can bear fruits on day four or five. As it did at Lord’s.