Bounce is the Way to Go
Mahendra Singh Dhoni will never make a good poker player. It is an ironical thing to say given he has had his fair share of luck leading India until now. It began with the T20 World Cup in 2007, when Joginder Sharma somehow managed to get Misbah-ul-Haq out.
Then, team India became the number one ranked side in the longer format, mainly playing at home. It was a period when Zaheer Khan was fit and bowling at his prime. By some chance, Yuvraj Singh's illness got delayed long enough for him to play a winning hand in the 2011 ODI World Cup. Later, despite an 8-0 drubbing endured thereafter, Dhoni stayed at the helm, something not many captains in the cricket world can possibly boast of.
It is his luck too that Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir have gone off the boil in the past two years, otherwise the selectors would have had possible options to replace him. Questions surround almost every current member of the Indian team and the captain on most occasions is the first to bear the brunt of criticism. With the embarrassing defeat to England in the second Test at Mumbai, Dhoni is once again one of the first players to be staring down the barrel.
Pure blinding luck is not enough to win in poker. You need to be very calculative, with a keen eye on how the cards are lining up at every hand played. Dhoni could have asked for tracks that resembled the dead wicket at Ahmedabad. Beating India on such a pitch is very difficult, with draw the most likely of results, and the possibility of revenge - and redemption - from 2011 might still be alive. Instead, Dhoni gambled with bounce and turn from day one itself. And England called his bluff!
The post-match conference at Mumbai was always going to be interesting in wake of India's loss. Dhoni is known to be quite forthright in his views and everyone wanted to know if he would praise or criticize the pitch at Wankhede. 'I like the pitch here,' he said. 'I would like to have the same pitch for the third Test in Kolkata as also the fourth Test in Nagpur. There is no point playing on dead wickets like in Ahmedabad, nobody wants to bat for three days and spend the next two days in the field. Test cricket should be challenging and such a wicket only bodes well for future of the game in India.'
At the time of writing, a new storm was brewing with Eden Gardens' chief curator being ordered off by the BCCI, for his failure to comply with the Indian skipper's demands. There are two ways to look at it. One, no two pitches can be identical though you can afford spin and bounce to each wicket in its natural pedigree. And two, barring Sourav Ganguly, every Indian captain has had trouble getting his demands met in Kolkata.
The latter isn't really an excuse, for such factionalism is rampant in Indian sport and not just cricket alone. But the fact that it lends into the first pointer is a bit worrisome. One had the opportunity to spend some time with the ground staff at Ahmedabad, after India had completed their in win in the first Test. It was made obvious that demands of bounce and spin don't hold water every time, and not just because the captain may or may not be on good terms with the concerned ground's curator. More than that however, curing pitches is considered to be an art by these grounds-men. What artist in the world wants to be told about the picture he is painting?
Yes, it appears to be an ego-tussle, more than just a challenge laid down by different conditions at different places. It is here that you want to question if Dhoni's demands are genuine at all, particularly with India's defeat hanging prominently in the backdrop.
On the third day of this match, there were three other Tests being played in different parts of the world. Out of Colombo, Adelaide, Khulna and Mumbai, it can be said, and with some pride, that the Indian track is the only one that adheres to the demands of the game today. An equal contest between the bat and ball is what the people want to see, be it any format of the game. The fact that ODIs and T20s don't follow this unwritten stipulation is but an indicator of the financial prowess of these shorter formats. There are no such rules governing five-day cricket, more so now that it is considered to be on the wane.
Sure, fans were dejected that India lost and that too in such despondent manner. That however is not the pitch's fault. Instead, it's the Indian players who did not put theoretical advantage into practice and paid the price. Maybe in the near future, Indian cricketers too will answer their critics with gutsy performances on such wickets, rather than being flat-track bullies. Even so, those who paid to witness this failure were treated to an awe-inspiring performance from England. The visitors were challenged by the conditions and upped the ante, responding to the massive task ahead of them.
That is what a little bounce can do - make cricket a winner that is!
More about Chetan NarulaStudying engineering and business administration couldn't satiate his mind and in 2007, Chetan Narula found his calling as a sportswriter/journalist. Since then he was written on cricket, F1 and football at various avenues not only in India but also in USA and UK. He also worked as cricket commentator (voice) at ESPN for their mobile and web platforms, doing over a hundred matches. High points of his career include witnessing history at Wankhede Stadium (Mumbai) when India lifted the ODI World Cup and his first book, Skipper: A Definitive Account of India's Greatest Captains, which hits bookstores in July 2011. His Twitter feed is here.
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