Be careful what you wish for, Dhoni

Mahendra Singh Dhoni had demanded for turning tracks in the ongoing Test series against England has no option but for his bowling unit to work hard for their wickets © Getty Images

Team India would be sitting pretty at the end of Day One of the Test match against England at Mumbai. On a pitch where the ball produced puffs of dust even on the first day, they had won the toss, got to bat first and reached 266 for six and could hope to get past 300 by the time they run out of wickets. It is hard to tell exactly how tough this pitch is for batting until the English innings is also over. However, former Indian captain Sourav Ganguly felt even a total of 250 would have been great on this pitch.   

But it could have been worse, so much worse. Southpaw Monty Panesar caused enormous problems for the Indian middle order, in spite of regularly sending down full tosses. India were reeling at 169 for six with captain MS Dhoni also going cheaply and a sub-200 total looked very likely at that stage. Only a fearless counterattack from Ravichandran Ashwin in the company of Cheteshwar Pujara, India’s latest immovable object, saved them the blushes. 

After a comprehensive win over England in the first Test at Motera, Day One was in truth a steep descent back to more humble ground for Team India. And Dhoni could hardly complain, having complained unreasonably about the pitch after the win in the first Test.   Merely by remaining true to character, Wankhede had delivered what he had asked for – a track that turns from Day One. 

And he would have already learnt by now that such tracks also make good spinners in the opposing side much harder to get away. Graeme Swann may not be an incredible off-spinner, but he’s also no Paul Harris-like pushover. He had demonstrated wonderful application at Motera and he would have loved the Mumbai pitch. Panesar evidently did with four scalps to show for his efforts. Should Alastair Cook drop anchor yet again in England’s reply, India may not yet be out of the woods. At any rate, the dream scenario of an innings defeat already looks elusive. 

As Virender Sehwag noted in another context, England are indeed not Bangladesh. Leaning on home advantage is fine, but it may not necessarily deliver similar results for India as in the past. England won the Ashes in memorable fashion less than two years back and also squared a series in Sri Lanka.

Despite what some unintentionally hilarious moments from their batsmen – like Ian Bell’s dismissal in the first innings at Motera – might suggest, England possess fine skills and deep reserves of physical and mental strength. They can be expected to tap more and more into the latter as they grow in confidence.

So, as much as Dhoni might wish it wasn’t the case, there is perhaps no option but for his bowling unit to work hard for their wickets. If the pitch assists their task, it would only make the batsmen’s job much harder. You cannot have it both ways.  

India’s three-man spin attack would relish the prospect of bowling on this Wankhede pitch.   But the batsmen would dread having to bat again (possibly on Day Four) and perhaps without the cushion of a huge first innings lead. Maybe India will indeed roll over England.   But maybe they are just going to endure a nerve-wracking thriller instead, hoping to finish on the right side.   

They have already had a look at a less appealing alternative script. Careful what you wish for, Dhoni. Your dreams and nightmares may just come true.

(Madan Mohan is a 27-year-old chartered accountant from Mumbai. The writing bug bit him when he was 8 and to date, he has not been cured of it.  He loves music, cricket, tennis and cinema and writing on cricket is like the icing on the cake.  He also writes a blog if he is not feeling too lazy at http://rothrocks.wordpress.com/)