Dhoni creeps up on Ganguly
This Test is right up MS Dhoni's alley. This is - and it needs little reminding - Virender Sehwag's 100th Test. While all eyes will be on the maverick, who debuted with a hundred in seaming Bloemfontein and will want to join Gordon Greenidge and Javed Miandad as men with centuries in both their first and 100th Tests, if Sehwag does continue to steal the limelight it will only help Dhoni quietly sneak up as the joint-most successful Test captain for India. And that's the way Dhoni likes to operate. Quietly.
Ahmedabad was Dhoni's 20th win as India's Test captain. Sourav Ganguly led India to 21 wins. Ganguly captained India in 49 Tests, Dhoni has taken 40. It will of course be mentioned here, and reminded again and again, that under Dhoni India have won just three Tests outside Asia, and have endured two of the worst series defeats. If you take out Zimbabwe, even under Ganguly India won just three Tests outside Asia. However, this cannot be a direct contest of numbers. Ganguly was building a team and a new culture; Dhoni is carrying it on.
These things, though, hardly bother Dhoni now. He famously lives in the moment. Dhoni's mind right now is focused on enjoying the upper hand at home, and also warding off some criticism alleging he wishes to "doctor the pitches".
Dhoni was neither apologetic about his criticism of the Ahmedabad pitch nor was he going to revisit his stance. "I was just trying to take the equation of the toss out," Dhoni said. "I was doing the good part, but different people have different opinions."
Unsure if he will ever get a pitch with turn and bounce, Dhoni said he will resort to public criticism again, should the one at Wankhede Stadium behave similarly to the one at Sardar Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad. "The wicket looks good," he said. "As it is the case in reviewing the decision, I have delayed it by five days. If this pitch also does not help our spinners, then I will again come and criticise it. But it looks like a good wicket to start off." This is one area of his captaincy where he has chosen to take an aggressive stance, and there must be good reason for his doing so.
Dhoni said teams might have a problem with his demands for pitches with turn and bounce because they have become used to flat tracks in India. "People talk of different challenges when it comes to playing in England, New Zealand, West Indies, Australia and South Africa," Dhoni said. "When they come to India, they get flat wickets. So maybe that is why they don't like it when the ball turns."
All this he said with a wide grin on his face. This is a far cry from the days in Australia when his comment that he will have to retire from one format of the game before World Cup 2015 drew the ire of, among others, Ganguly. Dhoni was at pains to explain how he meant his body might not be able to take the stress of all formats until Australia 2015, and he didn't mean to suggest he wasn't committed to Test cricket, but the timing of that comment remained questionable, coming as it did during India's worst year in Test cricket.
At some time during this home season - there are seven Tests to go still - Dhoni should join Ganguly at the top. However, Dhoni will want to make sure he does it to double the series lead, and not to regain it or level a series. He doesn't want to take England lightly after their fightback in Ahmedabad, despite their first-innings failure.
"The fact remains that the start of the second Test is always a fresh day," Dhoni said. "You have to start from scratch. There will be quite a few positives that the English side will take out of the last game. They will be coming with a positive mindset. I don't think it is very difficult to get out of the loss now because the T20 format has taught us to be in the same state of mind irrespective of whether you have lost or won the game."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo