'India need Tendulkar now more than ever' - Dravid
With the series against England level at 1-1, and following the poor performance in Mumbai, India need Sachin Tendulkar now more than ever, former captain Rahul Dravid has said, and he has backed him to perform in the rest of the series.
Tendulkar has not scored a half-century in his last ten Test innings and has managed just 29 runs in the three innings he's played against England so far in which he's been dismissed each time to spin. Dravid, however, said Tendulkar looked better than he did in the previous home series against New Zealand, and "who better than Sachin" to deliver in the next two games.
"I thought he was a little scratchy and looked a little under-prepared against New Zealand," Dravid said of Tendulkar, who prepared for the England series with a century for Mumbai in their opening game of the Ranji Trophy against Railways at the Wankhede Stadium. "Here, I know it seems strange to say after he's had three failures, but he's actually looking quite good.
"He's played a couple of straight drives, he's played a couple of shots that when I was playing with him, you knew he was playing well if he was playing those shots."
Tendulkar, Dravid said, had also been a little unlucky in this series. "He'll be disappointed with the shot he played to get out in Ahmedabad on a relatively flatter wicket, and then to see other people score runs. Here, he was a bit unlucky: the first ball that really spun on the first morning was the one that got him. Until then there weren't too many balls spinning. And then he played for the spin in the second innings and the ball straightened on a track on which every ball was spinning.
"India need him now more than ever. At 1-1 in a tight series, it's going to be very important for senior players to stand up and who better than Sachin to do that."
India went in with three specialist spinners for the Mumbai Test, on a surface that turned from the outset, but Dravid said, given that the conditions in Kolkata would be different, India would be better off with a combination of two spinners and two seamers.
"It's a different kind of soil, it does not break up," he said. "It's black soil, red soil [like in Mumbai] tends to deteriorate very quickly and if you leave it dry, it can turn and bounce a lot more than the black soil does.
"I think that's a blessing in disguise from India's point of view. They might have to work harder for the wins but it'll also give their batsmen a chance to be able to put up big scores, and to be able to show they are good players of spin."
Dravid admitted Dhoni had problems using his spin resources in Mumbai, especially with the availability of two other part-time options. "He's going to have to re-look at his combination, simply because it's going to be difficult to manage three spinners and especially having Yuvraj Singh and Virender Sehwag in the side who can also bowl spin.
"The combination they had in Ahmedabad was the best one, where they had two seamers and two spinners. Hopefully we'll see a normal Kolkata wicket. India have a great record in Kolkata, we've had a lot of success in Kolkata, because it is a typical subcontinental wicket. As it starts off, you can play your shots, there is something in it for the fast bowlers but it does spin."
Umesh Yadav will miss the Kolkata Test due to injury, and Ashok Dinda has been included in the squad having been named as cover last week. Should Dinda be picked in the XI, Harbhajan Singh, who bowled the least number of overs among India's spinners in Mumbai, may be left out.
Siddhartha Talya is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo