A couple of months ago, Mahendra Singh Dhoni was firmly on the back foot, having conceded a series defeat to England on home soil for the first time in 27 years. That had come after 4-0 routs in England and Australia. Now, Dhoni is the man who can do no wrong. After having set the world afire with a memorable 224 in the first Test in Chennai which India won by eight wickets, Dhoni became India's most successful Test captain on Tuesday (March 5) as he masterminded an innings-and-135-run drubbing in the second Test against Australia. His turnaround mirrors that of his team.
"That's what cricket is all about," Dhoni said, a few minutes after the match had finished. "You have to be at your best all the time. Against England, we were not at our best. We were not scoring enough runs, we were not putting huge totals on the board for our bowlers to be aggressive. All these things play a crucial part. You can't just rely on your batting or bowling, as a unit you have to do well. Once you score runs, automatically you will see the bowlers doing well. It works the other way as well. If the bowlers are bowling well, it creeps into your batting also. We are playing well at the moment. Also, the fifth-bowler strategy is really working for us."
Advocating teams playing to their strengths on home turf, Dhoni remarked, "The question we often get asked when we go to England or Australia is: 'Why don't you play on sporting wickets back home in India?' It's the same for everyone, you have to realise you play 70 or 80% of your matches in your home conditions. You have to be good there. As I always say, once you go abroad, the conditions are totally different and that's a challenge. That's what improves our Test cricket over a period of time. The sides that have players who have toured the subcontinent, or our players who have played in other countries, they have been able to perform quite consistently. I feel it's still a challenge, that's what is special about Test cricket. You go abroad, you have different conditions, you come to the subcontinent, the wicket becomes slow and low. If everything becomes the same, Test cricket won't be challenging."
Expressing his happiness at the playing surface, Dhoni said, "There was some bounce for the pacers with the new ball, and later, since it's a subcontinental wicket, there will be reverse swing with the older ball. It was slightly different for the spinners in the sense they started getting turn when the ball turned soft. In India, generally, you say bowl spinners with the new ball so that they get more turn, but here it was slightly different. Maybe it took us a little time to realise that, but, overall, it was a good wicket."
Dhoni was asked about Harbhajan Singh's performances in this series and whether it had been a tough call to opt for him ahead of Pragyan Ojha, the left-arm spinner and hometown boy, for this game. "What's important is to realise how he has been performing since his comeback. Once the big players who are left out make a comeback trying to cement their place, the pressure on them is much more compared to a new guy who has come in and is trying to make place in the side. The reason is there will be expectations from him for the amount of wickets he has taken.
"In his last three Test matches, he has shown improvement. He played against England and people weren't happy. I could also not give him the amount of overs I would have liked to. That's the case with three spinners. Often, one of them will be slightly under-utilised. And then the 100th Test match came and that pressure was always there on him. What's important is how he has overcome that. I felt he bowled well in the second innings in Chennai and over here in this game, he has shown improvement. He is bowling in one area which is very important. You will have one lead spinner, but when it comes to the second spinner, you may have to choose - something like horses for courses. The idea is with the Australians having lots of left-handers, having two off-spinners helps."
Dhoni was in a situation similar to that of Michael Clarke's not so long back, and said he had only one suggestion for his Australian counterpart. "I won't like to poke my nose but I would just like to say that screaming won't really help," he said. "You need to respect your opponents, whatever be the situation. And you don't give Australians advice as they are very competitive and they can come back strongly in the series. I always look at the positives. After this series, they will have a pool of players who have come to the subcontinent and the second time they play here, or in Sri Lanka or Pakistan or Bangladesh, they will be better equipped to handle the conditions. It's a win-win situation for them, it's just that they have to be a bit patient."