If you get the daily email from this site, you’ll already know whether India have made a decent fist of day five of the first Test against Australia. We’re writing this at the end of day four and have conflicting feelings about how things might pan out.
On the one hand, India’s tours to Australia and England over the last few years seem to have been characterised by the wheels falling off. It doesn’t always happen straight away – their win at Lord’s this summer was excellent – but wheellessness does tend to feel like an inevitability. Once off, the wheels roll away and maim children while MS Dhoni placidly looks on.
See something often enough and you become conditioned to expect it. India’s first innings 444 was a decent riposte to Australia’s 517-7 declared, but they now face 98 overs on the fifth day and it feels like they’ll be bowled out for 71 with the rest of the tour a painful purgatory where they’ll get to relive the misery again and again. That’s what normally happens.
On the other hand, India have looked an improving side for some time now and this XI in particular seems detached from its implosive predecessors. In England, the almost comically ineffectual Gautam Gambhir provided a link to previous touring sides but he’s gone now, as is Dhoni.
Dhoni has many qualities, some of which are even apparent in the Test format, but he has also gained an almost tangible air of blank-faced acquiescence on these tours. When the AI finds itself sinking towards an unwinnable position in a computer game, it doesn’t throw a strop and hit the reset button; it just plays on, emotionlessly, acceptant of its fate. That’s what Dhoni has become: an automaton with no white flag.
If this is unfair on a player who showed real grit with the bat in England, then perhaps we have to acknowledge that life is complex and no player is a wholly positive or negative influence. Perhaps we can even draw some conclusions based on India’s fourth innings performance. Is Dhoni himself the problem, or was he merely presiding over an Indian side that is the problem?