G Rajaraman - Keep the Faith

Kumble's field placings came under scanner on Day 3 when Dhoni took over

Friday, October 31, 2021
Pass the baton

You do not have to strain your ears to catch the buzz that seeks to install Mahendra Singh Dhoni as captain of the Indian Test team. Long before Virender Sehwag beguiled the well-set Australian batsmen Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey with his crafty off-spin in the final session of the third day of the third Test, calls for Dhoni to be given the job grew strident.

With Matthew Hayden, Simon Katich and Ricky Ponting starring in the Australian resistance, the Indian captain Anil Kumble's bowling changes and field placing came under the scanner before he went off the field midway through the day to tend to a bleeding finger, leaving Dhoni to hold charge.

There have been some suggestions that envisage Dhoni telling the wicket-less Kumble to concentrate on his bowling while he himself would handle the task of leading the side. But Dhoni is not the kind to take that up seriously and the whole team is backing Kumble to come good in the remainder of the series as a bowler.

Such stinging criticism of the incumbent midway through a Test match is perhaps uncalled for. I know I have been among those who have praised Dhoni's leadership skills as there is no doubt that the team appears to show a higher energy level when he has been calling the shots in this series than when Kumble has been leading the side. But to attack Kumble would be insensitive.

When Kumble was on the field, he had got the faster bowlers to send down 20 overs while the captain himself had bowled 17 luckless overs and his understudy Amit Mishra was in his 11th over. For variety, he had tried five overs of Sehwag's off-spin. And by flinging himself at short mid-wicket to try and catch Hayden when he pulled Mishra viciously, Kumble showed that he was keen to lead from the front.

To be fair to Kumble, the ageing maestro could have been trying too hard on a track that did not offer the bowlers much support until late in the evening when Sehwag conjured enough tricks to cause doubts in the minds of the batsmen with the old cricket ball as well as with the second new ball. One doesn't know if the captain was watching the cricket on TV but he would surely have loved to bowling when the batsmen were playing at deliveries more in hope than assurance.

Having said that, Dhoni did not do his case any harm by doing a good fist of leading the team. In fact, he got Sachin Tendulkar to bowl his first over in international cricket since February 12 this year. And he inspired Ishant Sharma to come up with an all-or-nothing spell when he troubled both Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey.

Yet, getting Sehwag to bowl with the second new ball when the off-spinner was in his elements was the instinctive masterstroke that Dhoni will look back with some satisfaction. With Hussey going strong as Australia's fourth half-centurion in the innings, it would have been tempting to get Zaheer Khan to share the new ball with Ishant Sharma in failing light but Dhoni resisted that.

Hussey was done in by the extra turn and bounce and beaten on the forward defence. Michael Clarke and Shane Watson were left holding fort gingerly, with Sehwag and Mishra asking them questions that were searching enough to give them food for thought overnight. Dhoni won a few more fans with his earthy captaincy, unwittingly pushing Kumble to the penumbra.

Well after the draw of stumps, the captain featured prominently in the interaction that the two teams had with the media. "Anil and Amit (Mishra) bowled admirably," Hayden said while Sehwag looked forward to his skipper's return to the bowling crease, encouraged by the changing conditions at the Ferozshah Kotla ground.