India capitulated to an embarrassing 266-run defeat in the third Test at Southampton, allowing England not only to level the series at 1-1 but also get a firm foot inside the five-Test series that is now widely open.
India’s surrender on day five was nothing less than England’s at Lord’s when Ishant Sharma’s eight breathtaking overs knocked life out of England. At that moment, it seemed India’s series to lose, but the Nottingham Test row between James Anderson and Ravindra Jadeja not just soured relations between the two teams but also shifted India’s focus enough for England to take advantage.
And England did hit hard, dismissing the Indians for just 178 on Thursday to clinch a morale-boosting win, which will rankle India going into the fourth Test at Old Trafford from August 7.
But how a team that looked good to take control of the series surrendered so tamely? Here are the five possible reasons and Dhoni’s response to them:
Throwing away good starts
On a track where England piled up 569 for 7, India scored 330 and 178 in their two innings. The primary reason for that was the batsmen couldn’t turn their starts into big innings. Barring Rahane, who showed teeth to fight, none of the Indian batsmen seemed to have answers to Anderson & Co.
“It [not converting starts] will become a bit of concern once it becomes repetitive. Let’s hope that it doesn’t become a habit,” Dhoni told the mediapersons after the defeat on Thursday.
“But the good thing is that the batsmen are getting good starts, and hopefully they will convert those starts into big innings. Getting a start is more difficult than converting starts. Hopefully, they will come back strong.”
India’s slip cordon – since the retirements of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman – has looked substandard. India have tried Jadeja, Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan and Ajinkya Rahane there, but none have showed the skills that would up the confidence of a bowler.
Jadeja dropped Cook on 15 in the England first innings on day one, and the home skipper returned to form with a 95, which is one of the moments that turned the game England’s way.
When particularly asked about the missed catches, Dhoni replied, “Those three in the slip cordon currently are three of the best we have got. But definitely we need to improve.”
India never expected to cave in to spin in England, especially in the absence of Graeme Swann who has retired. But Moeen Ali turned out to be the surprise package on the final morning in Southampton, polishing off the Indians and ending with figures of 6 for 76 – his career best.
“Our batsmen played the fast bowlers better, but we allowed Moeen to bowl his line and length. There was considerable amount of wear and tear on the pitch that went his way, and there were a lot of close-in fielders too. I just felt that we could have been a bit more positive against him,” Dhoni said.
After winning the Lord’s Test with five bowlers, India chose to go in with an extra batsman at Southampton.
“This Test showed some areas where we have to improve and to win Test matches we need to take 20 wickets,” said the India skipper. But in this particular game, we were not able to take even 10 wickets, and that was a setback to a certain extent,” said Dhoni, when asked of his decision to drop the extra bowler in Stuart Binny.
“In the first couple of games, we played with that extra bowler. But we never really used him to that extent, giving him only 8 to 10 overs. That’s the reason we thought of making our batting stronger by getting Rohit [Sharma] in.
“At the same time, he could also give us those 8 to 10 overs or more. That was the thinking behind it, and we need to go back and think what’s needed according to the pitches for the next two Test matches.”
India’s problems started before the toss itself, when Lord’s hero Ishant Sharma was ruled out due to an ankle injury, and India’s woes may not end soon, with Dhoni revealing that Ishant will not be available for the fourth Test as well.
Ishant’s replacement Pankaj Singh bowled well but remained wicketless on his debut Test.