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India drew their opening Test match of their five-match series against England at Trent Bridge after batting for the entire day as Stuart Binny and Bhuvneshwar Kumar completed half-centuries. Shiamak Unwalla wonders whether the match could have panned out differently had MS Dhoni declared earlier.
India started Day Five at a comfortable 167 for three, with Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane at the crease. A lead of 128, with seven wickets remaining, at the start of the fifth day of a Test in England is usually a safe place to be.
However, being 184 for six — leading by only 145— with just four wickets remaining and not a single genuine top-order batsman left, is a rather insecure position to be in. Yet, that is where India found itself merely an hour into the day’s play.
It was left to Ravindra Jadeja, who has a highest Test score of 43, debutant Stuart Binny, and first innings hero, Bhuvneshwar Kumar to rescue India. And rescue India they did, in a rather convincing fashion. Binny combined first with Jadeja, and then Bhuvneshwar to take India out of danger and put them firmly in the driver’s seat.
Jadeja was dismissed for 31, with the score on 249. India had a lead of 210 at that point, with around 50 overs remaining in the day’s play. Had Dhoni declared then, the match would have been wide open.
It would have shaken England out of their stupor immediately, and could have left them jaded in their chase. With Alastair Cook in poor form, and the English mindset being decidedly defensive, the risk of them chasing down those runs was almost negligible. In fact, Cheteshwar Pujara had said on Day Four that the pitch was quite difficult to score quickly on.
Keeping this in mind, had Dhoni declared, the ball would have been firmly in England’s court. Without a batsman of the calibre of Kevin Pietersen to help felicitate the chase, England could well have been caught in two minds whether to go for glory or be content with a draw.
A few wickets in this scenario could have led to panic in the ranks of a largely inexperienced batting line-up — Sam Robson, Gary Ballance and Moeen Ali have played a grand total of 10 Tests between them — which could have been exploited by the Indian bowlers.
Of course, this is all mere conjecture. It is equally possible that England would have batted out the remaining overs placidly, and both teams would have called off play an hour early, and enjoyed with a beer at the famous Trent Bridge inn.
However, the fact that both Dhoni and England skipper Cook were content on drawing — Cook brought himself and Gary Ballance on to bowl at one point — does not bode particularly well for the series. Perhaps with a bit more positive intent, Dhoni could have sent a very strong message to an opposing captain who has precious little confidence at the moment (but who admittedly had enough confidence in his bowling to send down two overs of his wibbly wobbly part-timey stuff.
India held out to a draw, thereby managing not to lose the first Test of a series in England for only the fourth time since 1932. In that respect, it could be considered a victory for the visitors. However, if India are to have any chance of actually winning this series, Dhoni will need to be more aggressive and take a few more risks.
(Shiamak Unwalla is a reporter with Cricket Country. He is a self-confessed Sci-Fi geek and Cricket fanatic who likes to pass his free time by reading books, watching TV shows, and eating food. Sometimes all at the same time. You can follow him on twitter at @ShiamakUnwalla)
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