Having earned an extra day off after clinching the first Test in four days, the New Zealand players were a happy lot on Tuesday morning. The kept switching seats among themselves as the flight took off from Auckland.
As India took a later flight into New Zealand’s capital, for the final stop of a tour gone horribly wrong, skipper MS Dhoni would have had enough time to digest the first Test defeat and look back at his failed gamble at Eden Park.
And as the players check into the team hotel in Wellington, renowned for its décor, betting too would have occupied his mind. Faced with his fourth successive overseas Test series defeat, Dhoni would be happy he is far away from home.
The Justice Mudgal committee report on the IPL spot-fixing scandal’s finding that Gurunath Meiyappan, son-in-law of cricket Board president N Srinivasan, was indeed an influential official of the Chennai Super Kings and guilty of betting and passing on team information has pointed a finger at Dhoni as well. CSK’s skipper since the IPL was launched in 2008, he had told the panel that Meiyappan was a mere ‘cricket enthusiast’.
Only victory in the final Test starting at the Basin Reserve on Friday will help India salvage pride on a tour where their best has been a tie. And continued overseas failures has once again turned the spotlight on Dhoni’s captaincy when it comes to dealing with challenging conditions.
Auckland marked the latest debatable decision. He asked No 8 Ravindra Jadeja to launch an all-out attack against the Kiwi pacers, who were operating with the second new ball at that time. It fetched quick runs but did hasten the end of India’s second innings, leaving the hosts victorious before stumps on Sunday, the fourth day of the Test.
With 137 still needed to reach the tough target of 407, the seventh-wicket pair raised 54 runs off just 5.4 overs. The-out attack surprised Kiwi skipper Brendon McCullum and the run chase was exciting while it lasted. But it seemed to go against Dhoni’s own theory given earlier on the tour.
When asked why he did not include leg-spinner Amit Mishra for even the meaningless final ODI, with the series already decided, Dhoni said that “in the southern hemisphere” batting conditions are tougher and required a No 8 who could bat. He was defending the continued inclusion of the struggling Ravichandran Ashwin. While Ashwin has Test hundreds, Jadeja has first-class triple centuries against his name and could have been asked to get more watchful having launched into the attack.
After Jadeja’s dismissal, Dhoni’s tactics of taking a single off the first ball in the next few overs also left tail-ender Zaheer Khan to face the charged up Kiwi pacers.
India have not won an overseas Test since Jamaica on the 2011 West Indies tour, a trip that ended in some controversy after Dhoni decided not to give chase to an attainable fourth innings target in the last Test in Dominica.
On this tour, he has won the toss every single time, but barring one ODI, he has stuck to bowling first although it didn’t put much pressure on the opposition. And all-rounder Stuart Binny was handed his ODI debut but was given only one over. And he didn’t get the chance to showcase his aggressive batting.
Dhoni has two days to marshal his troops, overcoming all distractions. The debacle on the 2011-12 tours brought demands for the removal of the skipper as well as coach Duncan Fletcher. With controversies on and off the field, victory will be much more than face-saving for the India skipper.