Sunil Gavaskar always reckoned that while one needs courage to play the faster bowlers, it takes a lot of skill to play against spinners, especially on a turner. This was proved true at the Wankhede Stadium where the England batsmen, especially Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen, showed considerable skill to upset MS Dhoni's plans.
Their methods, as similar as chalk and cheese, exposed the lack of temperament and ineffective gameplan of the Indian spinners. Cook frustrated them with his doggedness, and Pietersen caned the trio with his customary flamboyance. The remarkable feature of KP's innings was that he was playing his role for the team, and not looking to prove a point by grafting for runs.
The debatable decision of fielding three spinners was in a way blessed by providence, as the toss went in Dhoni's favour. But the advantage withered away after some very ordinary shot selection from the Indian batsmen. Their approach and mindset were intriguing. Contrary to expectations and the confidence exuded by Dhoni, it did appear that they were victims of lack of practice against quality spinners on dry surfaces.
I urge the readers not to curl their lips, for I say this because Dhoni went in with three spinners on a turner based on the past. He had seen batsmen like Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly, who were extremely adept against spin. The victories on home turf were achieved due to their skills, to not only survive but also dominate even on rank turners.
Of course, one must also understand the advantage they had in the sense that they grew up on dry surfaces and played against a plethora of quality spinners across the country to hone their skills. On the other side of the coin, the spinners were also brought up to try and outwit the batsmen through persistence and consistency in their line and length. Think of the numerous occasions Anil Kumble was accused of being successful only on turners at home. You can't recollect too many occasions when he let his side down on a tailor-made pitch.
The "standardisation of pitches", a directive issued by the ICC a few years ago, resulted in matches being played either on good batting decks in India (even in domestic cricket) or on bouncy tracks abroad. This hardly gave the current crop of batsmen the opportunities to hone their skills either on turners or on bouncy tracks.
The ploy of playing on a turner in the past was more as insurance when India needed to win a series or level it. A peek into history will show that the record was incredible when India chose to play on turners. I remember the famous "Hirwani Test" [Chennai, 1988], on a minefield where the batsmen needed helmets against spinners. Still, the spinners had to get the job done through consistency and the West Indies batting line-up in that Test was in no way inferior to the current England one.
Without wanting to be overly critical, I do believe that modern-day batsmen find it a strange experience to play on turners against spinners who know how to bowl.Â As such, Dhoni needs to figure out where the strength of the current Indian team lies before he decides on the nature of tracks in future.
For a start, he needs to come to terms with the fact that his batsmen as a unit are not in the best of nick, and hence underprepared tracks can boomerang on him. The biggest concern is that he is banking on some batsmen who have been brought up to succeed in the shorter formats of the game. Besides, the one man who can infuse a lot of confidence in the dressing room is having his share of problems at this point in time. Not exactly a great phase in life for Dhoni the captain.