We’ve heard Mahendra Singh Dhoni go on and on about the kind of pitch he wants. Before every match, he speaks about the wicket that he believes India must get and the curator must give.
He speaks about turn. He speaks about how he wants his spinners to make England wince. He, sometimes, even speaks about the opposition – even though he is more likely to say that they are a team that believes in the 'process'… a term that was introduced to the Indian team by Greg Chappell. Nobody else in the Indian team, thankfully so, felt the need to air their thoughts on the matter – they were all distracted by the Sachin Tendulkar debate.
Then, in between, he gets embroiled in a fight with the curator of the Eden Gardens pitch, who in turn calls Dhoni 'immoral.' Brilliant. This is just the kind of build-up India need before a vital Test, right?
And through all this – you can’t help but wonder why Dhoni is freaking out so much?
Yes, India lost the Mumbai Test by 10 wickets – they were beaten and they were beaten well. But despite all the talk about Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann and how well they bowled, Dhoni should do well to realise that India were beaten by one man.
Kevin Pietersen did to India what Virender Sehwag did to England in Ahmedabad. He took the game away from Dhoni’s side in a hurry and because he scored runs so quickly, India found themselves in a fair bit of trouble even before they could realise what hit them.
In his own steady way, Alastair Cook was great for England. But he isn’t going to win matches on his own. He may save them and even set them up but winning is something that batsmen like Pietersen do which is why the ideal reaction from India would have been to go back to the drawing board and work out a better plan against Pietersen; a plan that does more than merely rely on the right-hander to get himself out or for the pitch to play the villain.
In Mumbai, the spinners were far too short against him at the beginning of his innings. They missed their chance and he grabbed his. At Kolkata, even if the desired turner does turn up – India need their bowlers to bowl to a plan. And that’s what Dhoni and coach Duncan Fletcher need to be focussing on.
However, at the moment, Dhoni is letting his anxiety get the better of him. When India were losing match after match in England and Australia – Dhoni couldn’t wait to get home, he expected his luck to change once again and his weapon of choice was the pitch.
In his mind, he figured that England and Australia just couldn’t play spin. So put them on a turner and victory is assured. But now that he hasn’t got the desired result, he is getting desperate. He is running on empty – all the goodwill he had built up during his tenure seems to be rapidly evaporating and it seems that his concerns about the pitch stem from this.
Over the last 12 months, Dhoni has played 7 Tests. Against Australia (3 Tests), he scored 102 runs at 20.40. Against a weak New Zealand side (they were without Dan Vettori) he made 183 runs at an average of 91.50 in 2 Tests. Against England (2 Tests), he has once again failed to get going – with just 40 runs to show at an average of 13.33. His keeping has always been safe – never great. But what made him a shoe-in for the Indian team was his captaincy.
So now, if he stops winning matches as captain – would he continue to remain first-choice keeper as well? In ODIs and T20, he remains untouchable. But Tests are a different issue altogether – he is vulnerable and he is letting it show.
You can play mind games when you are feeling good about your game but Dhoni isn't quite doing it right. Firstly, you have to choose your moment and be able to back up your words with deeds. Sourav Ganguly would do it as well but he was very careful to not let it affect the team. Steve Waugh and Glenn McGrath were past masters at it. Brian Lara had his own brand of mind games.
And during the commentary in the second Test, Shane Warne recounted an incident that had everyone in splits: In a Test match against Pakistan, Basit Ali had frustrated the Aussies all day by taking every available break -- he changed gloves, pads, shoes and had water every two overs. So when the last over of the day came along, Warne and Ian Healy got together in the middle of the pitch and decided to give Basit a taste of his own medicine. They chatted about which place might be good for dinner and did that for a while just to irritate the batsmen. And to make things even better, they got him next ball.
Dhoni has been admired by many for being a no nonsense character and now, he needs to stick to what he does best. Getting involved in needless controversies isn't helping him nor the team.
There was a rumour doing the rounds not very long ago – the new selectors led by Sandeep Patil apparently had a chat with Dhoni and told him that they’ll give him the team he wants but in return, they want victories.
So far he isn’t delivered on that front and maybe the pressure is getting to him. But he needs to remember that India is on home turf and they still have a chance of winning the series. It’s too early to get freaked out, rather it’s time to tighten the shoe-laces, get the mind back on the game and walk into the ground like champions regardless of whether the pitch turns or not.