Melbourne: MS Dhoni, is a headline-writer's nightmare. He refuses to get drawn into any pre-series big talk, post-win boasting, or discussions about pressure. It's two days before the Boxing Day Test, the biggest event on Australia's cricket calendar, and you could sum up the state of mind he wants to project in one quote: "What's important is to live in the moment. You have to try to win more sessions than the opposition."
There have been comments from the opposition, players both current and retired, but he says, "We shall stick to what we need to do." Try asking if there is an extra significance to this series, coming as it does after the England debacle and in all likelihood being India's last away Tests for two years, and he says, "There is no point in taking extra pressure. We look to do well in every game, be it home or away. We look to keep it simple. Do small things well. We didn't do well in England of course but it's not about past or future. It's about the present."
Dhoni informs you that everyone is fit and available for selection, but immediately says there are two days to go and two days is a long time. Lest the headline uses the word "confident". Even the foreign journalists have stopped asking him about DRS, knowing they are not going to get anything new. Somebody asks him if the "favourites" tag means extra pressure, and he retorts, "Even when we were underdogs, you wanted us to be under pressure"
Dhoni is then asked about whether Ishant Sharma's decision to delay the surgery on his ankle was a wise move. "That depends on the individual and what the physio tells him regarding that," he says. Somebody else has spotted Gautam Gambhir and VVS Laxman making a few technical changes, and Dhoni's response to that is: "Very difficult for me to answer, because technically I am not very sound. Something that the coach does. One of these days I'll ask Duncan [Fletcher] to come for a press conference."
However, after about 15 minutes of this cat-and-mouse - and it's not really a criticism because he was not made captain to help sell papers - he does open up a bit, when asked about his own batting. Obviously in Tests, Dhoni the batsman is not the presence Dhoni the batsman is in shorter formats.
He has played important Test hands here and there, has scored quick hundreds when setting up a declaration, averages a respectable 38, but that defining big knock has eluded him. Last year he was on the verge of playing one such, trying to help India save the Centurion Test along with Sachin Tendulkar. During their partnership, batting seemed easy, and swiftly India threatened to erase the deficit. Just before a thunderstorm arrived, though, Dhoni got a corker from Dale Steyn, the kind of ball that, produced at the right time, is the difference between a draw and a win. It was 2010, but Dhoni mentioned the South Africa tour when talking of the year of the "80s".
"I don't think much about it," Dhoni said. "Of course as I said I am not technically very sound. At times for me it is about adapting to the conditions. Batting at No. 7, especially if you see this year, it hasn't been a brilliant year for me individually. I see this year as a year where I have scored a lot of these 80s. At times I have been short of partners, like for example, in South Africa I was batting decently, and [during] a couple of innings, all of a sudden I didn't have batsmen batting with me.
"[In these situations] You look to score as many runs as possible, and at times you get out. At the end of the day it looks like you haven't scored runs. Of course I would like to improve as an individual."
And while walking off, he jokes it was a very long press conference.
Story first published on: Saturday, 24 December 2011 19:02 IST