After the home ODI series against West Indies, MS Dhoni went away, handing the reins of Team India in the hands of Virat Kohli. Now, after having nursed his injured right thumb, worked on his fitness and having rejuvenated himself, the Indian captain is back at the helm for the second Test against Australia at the Gabba.
As he spoke ahead of the Test in Brisbane, Dhoni said the long break has done wonders for his body and mind. “This rest was very important for me,” he said. “I got the thumb injury while playing in England and I played on because sometimes, these injuries settle as you keep playing.”
“But that wasn’t the case this time and the right hand thumb only got worse with more batting. It was an important call for me because this is an important series and then there is the World Cup. So, I wanted 20-25 days at a stretch which I got. It was good for me because I got some time to work on my fitness as well.”
As he sat out of the first Test of this series, at the Adelaide Oval, Dhoni watched his stand-in skipper closely. And he liked what he saw.
“He has been fantastic, not only as a captain but also as a leader, even in the ODIs that he has led in,” Dhoni said of Virat Kohli. “He is an aggressive character and is slightly different to what I am. What he did throughout the Test was great and especially his approach towards his own batting was fantastic. He had a lean series in England and it was good to see the way he prepared for this series and then the way he went out there and batted.”
Dhoni said what impressed him most about Virat’s captaincy was how well he maintained the balance between attack and defense. “He kept mixing it up. He wasn’t attacking over the top. He gave in-and-out field to Karn at times and when he felt he could put the pressure on the batsmen, he brought in the fielders close. That is how cricket is played now – you have to see the momentum and decide when to attack or back off slightly. He did fantastically well in that regards.”
Virat’s aggressive captaincy came to the fore like never before when he instructed his team to go for the win, chasing 364 on the last day, rather than play out for time. Virat’s decision was approved by Dhoni.
“I thought it was the right approach that we went for the target. With the partnership (between Vijay and Virat), we were in a position to chase down the target. Unfortunately Vijay got out and we lost a few more wickets. From there it would have been very difficult to play for a draw and the only right approach was to go for the win. Our approach will remain the same in the coming Tests.”
While not revealing his Playing XI or the combinations for the Test, Dhoni did hint that India will go in with R Ashwin over Karn Sharma. That Ashwin is set to play in Brisbane, was also evident in the middle when he did the catching drills standing at first slip.
This wicket will have something for the seamers and with Mitchell (Johnson) bowling left-arm over the wicket and other bowlers bowling round the wicket, there will be footmarks which an off-spinner will be able to exploit better than a left-arm spinner or a leg-spinner,” Dhoni said.
“Ashwin is somebody who can bat lower down the order and I feel it is very important because at times we have lost our lower order very cheaply and the batsman at the other end hasn’t got support. It would be a great help to have someone like Ashwin at the other end because he not only spends time in the middle but also scores fluently.”
Dhoni also said that if he decides to go in with five bowlers, Rohit Sharma will miss out.
The Gabba pitch is known as Australia’s fortress as no opposition team has managed to win a Test here since 1988-89. Dhoni said he’d rather play on a green wicket like Brisbane than on flat pitches, as it gives his bowlers a better chance of picking 20 wickets.
“More often than not I prefer wickets that are slightly on the greener side because our bowlers become much more effective on them. It makes our job easier to get the opposition out.
“That’s where we have struggled to some extent – in the last two-three overseas series we have been in a position to win Test matches but haven’t been able to go all the way. It’s a matter of time. With a bit more experience this team has the talent to win Test matches overseas. You will see them do much better in any given conditions.”
From the opposition point of view, Dhoni said Australia will miss the injured Michael Clarke. “Michael not being there is a big blow for them. The stats will tell you that he has scored a lot of runs against us. While it is unfortunate that he has to miss the Test series with an injury but to a certain extent, his absence will help us.”