What's Test cricket without the ball brushing past a batsman's nose? Nothing. That perfume ball made famous by ma Caribbean maan is fast losing height in India - courtesy mostly the tracks. And when that's not the case, MS Dhoni makes sure it stays nice and low by asking one of his spinners to open the bowling in a Test match.
Test cricket was classic in India until the 90s. Nine o'clock starts with a bit of haze around - best time for the Binnys, Kapils and Prabhakars to make the ball talk on day one. Gentle medium-pace, with swing and seam. Close in on lunch and the captain would give a warm-up nod to his spinner. Just a couple of overs of finger or wrist spin before the break – 70-odd for 1, classic, copybook. That's what made watching Tests lovable, right?
But the rat race that India have been in of late is killing their Test cricket. India's approach has glaringly changed since they assumed the No. 1 mantle in 2010. A win-at-home-to-keep-it-going policy has been backed by a spin-them-out approach. One can't even blame the curators, who are made to look like slaves to the BCCI's whims and fancies.
Dhoni's tactics like asking a spinner to open in the Bangalore Test smell of desperation that's killing Test cricket.
There's no hiding behind the excuse that it's the same throughout the subcontinent. To broaden the scope is the ICC's job, to get your own house in order is of the respective board's. It can't even be said that India are asked to play on green tracks when they travel overseas. That's too big a risk for any team to take. The percentage of a green track backfiring is much higher than a spin track doing that, so there's a distinct advantage subcontinent teams enjoy with superior spinners than any other team.
But Dhoni doesn't mind that - as long as it allows him to stroke a fifty every other innings and then have spinners spit venom on snake pits in their backyard. Even if it kills the fun of watching classic Test cricket - which is what the format is all about. Even if it damages the confidence of future fast-bowling hopes like Umesh Yadav who was left rubbing his hands in Bangalore as Pragyan Ojha opened with a shiny red cherry. Result: Come November 2013 and we will be cribbing about the lack of pacers to take to South Africa.
Desperation for a win is fine, but doing that at the cost of killing spectators' interest gives you an "I don't care" impression. And if wins on home-spun turning tracks accompany desperation, then Test cricket in India cuts nothing but a sorry figure.