In what was a complete anti-climax, Team India followed up their epic win in the Lord’s Test with a feeble performance in Southampton to squander away their lead in the series. With India’s 266-run loss at the Ageas Bowl, the five-Test series now stands leveled at 1-1.
Indian skipper, MS Dhoni, identified certain areas where he felt his team went wrong of which the inability to pick 20 wickets and dodgy slip cordon stood out.
“We knew they would come back strong and it was a new challenge for us,” Dhoni said at the end of the match. “Overall the game was good but there are quite a few areas that we have to improve on. You need to take 20 wickets to win a Test match but in this Test we struggled to take even 10 wickets. That was a setback.”
In what came as a surprise to many, it was England’s part-time off-spinner, Moeen Ali who wrecked the Indian batting lineup, with eight wickets in the match, including a six-for in the second innings. Dhoni felt his batsmen should have attacked Ali more.
“Our batsmen played the fast bowlers well but we let Moeen bowl his line and length,” Dhoni said. “There was a considerable amount of wear and tear in the pitch and if you keep playing him, one odd ball would turn and with so many catching fielders around, you will get out. We can be a bit more positive against him.”
Dhoni maintained his stand on Ali as he defended Rohit Sharma’s loose shot to get caught at mid-off of the off-spinner in the first innings.
“Sometimes you go for your shots and you will get out, so I am not really too bothered about the way Rohit got out,” the Indian skipper said. “It’s the attitude that’s more important and I think he did the right thing by stepping out and looking to hit.
“Yes, you have to choose your timing – if it’s 10-15 minutes to tea or lunch, you slightly curb your instincts. I was happy that he went for his shot. He got out and that’s part and parcel of the game. We are playing well but are getting out at the wrong time,” Dhoni said.
The Indian skipper was also unnerved by the fact that none of his batsmen went on to convert the starts they got and that Ajinkya Rahane’s 54 in the first innings was the highest individual score from his team in the Test.
“It’s not a concern when it happens once but if it becomes a repetitive thing, that’s when it becomes a concern,” he said. “Let’s hope it doesn’t get there. On the other hand, it’s good that the batsmen are getting the starts. It’s just a matter of time before they convert them into big innings. Getting starts is more difficult than converting them. Let’s hope they get a taste of it and get big scores.”
While defending the batsmen, Dhoni conceded that some of his bowlers would have been a bit tired after the first two Tests. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who picked up a five-for at both Trent Bridge and Lord’s, was nowhere near to being as effective in the third Test.
“Bhuvi seemed slightly tired after the first spell but he came back nicely. He bowled well in the first two Tests but was slightly on the shorter side here,” Dhoni said. Apart from that I was happy with the effort put in by the fast bowlers.”
While Dhoni admitted that Bhuvi erred on the shorter side, he was all praise for the debutant fast bowler, Pankaj Singh. Pankaj toiled hard for 47 overs in the match conceding 179 runs for no wickets.
The numbers hardly do justice to the effort put in by the strapping fast bowler. He had Cook dropped off his bowling by Jadeja and a seemingly plumb lbw appeal against Ian Bell rejected. However, Pankaj’s efforts were not lost on his skipper.
“It was a wicket where you had to hit the surface hard to get the purchase and that’s where I thought Pankaj was very impressive. He is a tall guy but was hitting the right spots and got fair amount of movement. He was unlucky not to get a few wickets but I was very happy with his performance,” Dhoni said.
Of India’s slip woes, Dhoni said, “It needs to improve but the three fielders standing in the slips are the best we have right now.”
The teams go into the fourth Test at Manchester with the series in the balance. Dhoni said what his boys do from here will determine the strength of their characters.
“We have our own concerns as well as strengths and I know this is going to be a perfectly fought tight series. With the series 1-1 and two Tests to go, it will be a test of character for the team. England have played five-Test series before but this is the first time for us and it is going to be a big test. It will test our fitness as well.”