Dhoni-Bhajji partnership was turning point: Fletcher

Former Eng coach Duncan Fletcher said the partnership between MS Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh in the first innings was the turning point in the memorable win.

updated: December 17, 2008 11:10 IST
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Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag got most of the accolades for India's first Test victory in Chennai but for former England coach Duncan Fletcher, the seventh-wicket partnership between Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh in the home team's first innings was the turning point in the memorable win.

"There's no doubt that the decision to play the first Test at Chennai was vindicated. That was a superb game, rounded off by a fantastic knock from Sachin Tendulkar. There was something for everyone - except, for England, the right result," said Fletcher, who is now consultant of the South African cricket team.

"Clearly India batted out of their skins in the final innings but I believe an area of the game that has been overlooked was the seventh-wicket partnership between Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh on the second day, when they added 75 just as India were threatening to collapse.

"That meant the first-innings deficit was manageable rather than impossible and underlines how much you need guys who can bat at number eight. It was a critical period," he wrote in his column for 'The Mirror'.

Commenting on Rahul Dravid's lean patch, Fletcher said with Tendulkar in prime form there has been a role reversal in the home team's performance when the English came touring India in 2002.

"Mind you, Tendulkar played so well and he probably would have scored a hundred against any attack. I remember thinking during India's tour of England in 2002 that we had the better of him early on and that it was Rahul Dravid who was the major problem. Now the roles have been reversed.

"Are there any chinks in his (Tendulkar's) armour? We used to think he could be vulnerable against the short ball but the problem in India is that it doesn't bounce very high. It might not be much consolation to England, but sometimes you just have to accept you've been outplayed by one of the game's true greats," Fletcher said.

Fletcher said left-arm spinner Monty Panesar, who was pedestrian in his 3/170 effort in Chennai, may be dropped for the second Test at Mohali if England opt for one spinner. "Graeme Swann bowled better in Chennai than Monty Panesar and if England opt for one spinner, they face a difficult choice.

"The question is whether there is a better alternative. Swann bowled more wicket-taking deliveries in Chennai than Panesar. If the ball's turning and the opposition have a lot of right-handers, I believe you want the ball coming back into them, and that along with his batting and fielding would give Swann the edge," Fletcher said.

Fletcher felt Panesar will have to work out lots of variations if he has to succeed at the subcontinent.

"Players have to learn to think on their feet. It's crucial a bowler understands what batting's about and that's where Monty keeps coming unstuck. Beyond understanding the technical aspects of variations changes of angle and delivery Monty has to come to terms with the way a batsman's mind works, and second-guess his intentions. But he's just sending down the same ball again and again.

"For Monty to be dangerous, the wicket's really got to help him. If there's bounce and spin to be had he can be lethal, because he has this beautiful action. But he's played enough Tests now and he should be doing a lot of thinking about how to set his own fields and how to adapt them according to the line he's bowling."

Fletcher said Kevin Pietersen's boys have a tough task ahead at Mohali to level the two-match series after blowing the chance to win the first Test.

"Defeats like that can have a huge effect. England had more than enough runs to play with. Defeat should not have been an option. Instead they now have no time at all to pick themselves up before Friday's second Test in Mohali. It's going to take a hell of an effort."

The former though refused to blame any individual player for the first Test loss and termed it as a collective failure.

"You can't blame one person for the defeat: a lot of the players have to take a look at themselves. Sure, two totals of 300 look good but those numbers hide a few problems as Andrew Strauss and Paul Collingwood showed that strength of character is crucial in the subcontinent.

"But it must be a concern that England's three other experienced batters - Ian Bell, Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff - did not contribute.

"The same goes for the bowling. England needed two of their three most experienced bowlers - Steve Harmison, Flintoff and Monty Panesar - to perform and it just didn't happen. Yes, Flintoff was tight, but England need guys who can knock sides over, not just a defensive bowler who can put batters on the back foot.

"As for Harmison, a bowler of his experience should have learned by what to do to be successful in the subcontinent. Put simply, you need variations. You can't just rely on your height and hope that bounce comes into play."