India have the character to bounce back - Dhoni
MS Dhoni, India's under-fire captain, has said this is the time for the team to show character. India are 2-1 down against England and could lose their first Test series at home since 2004 if they don't win the Nagpur Test. In all they have now lost 10 of their 11 Tests against England and Australia, and almost every player in the side has had his place questioned in recent times.
"Not only as a captain, but as an individual too you rarely get these situations," Dhoni said. "Against South Africa [in 2008], we were in a similar situation, when we were down in the series, going into Kanpur. I won't say this is a very good situation to be in, but you get to know the character of a team or a person only in tough times. In a way it's a good situation to be in where we have nowhere to go. We have to do well in this game."
Dhoni said the team has been in good spirits despite the reverses over the last few weeks. "The spirit is really good," he said. "We have maintained that really well. In tough times the only people who will support you are team members, and the support staff. We have kept it really close, and the good thing is we are enjoying our cricket, which at times you don't tend to do when you go through a rough patch. When it comes to the dressing-room atmosphere, it's looking great."
Dhoni said his team is used to being under such pressure. "If you are part of Indian cricket, everything is under the microscope, and everybody has an opinion about cricket," he said. "Everybody asks the questions we also ask, but nobody comes with a solution, which is the brilliant part. That's how it goes in India. Cricket is a sport followed in a big way. Everybody has an opinion about everything that goes on.
"People who have covered cricket for a long time, once you wait for the result you have plenty more questions you can ask - 'Why that guy was not picked', 'why this guy was not given the new ball.' It's not like soccer where players play from a specific area. The midfielder plays from there, you alter it very rarely. Cricket is a sport where you can ask a lot of questions. That's a big part of our life. We are under the microscope throughout."
Asked if many cricketing futures relied on the coming game, Dhoni said there was no need to be that dramatic. "That's getting very critical," Dhoni said. "A series or two or a rough patch…everybody was talking of this phase in Indian cricket where the big cricketers will move on and the pressure will come on young players. Everybody was expecting a rough patch.
"Of course we have struggled in the last two Test matches. If you ask big questions depending on two Test matches, it may come in the future too when we lose two Test matches that youngsters should go out and somebody else should come in. You have to be consistent. You have to keep faith in the players. People who have done a lot for Indian cricket over the years, just on the basis of one series or two Test matches or half a season, it will be difficult if you are asking questions."
Dhoni defended two of his batsmen under-fire from the critics. About Sachin Tendulkar, he said: "He is the best man to have in the side in a game like this. The experience he has, the kind of performances he has given under pressure over the years is something we all look up to. When it comes to Sachin, the best thing to do is to not speculate. He has proved everybody wrong throughout his career. There is nothing really to speculate. Let him enjoy his cricket. That's important."
Gautam Gambhir got Dhoni's vote of confidence too. "About Gautam, the best thing I like about him is he is an aggressive character," Dhoni said. "I always talk about it. I have played with him a lot. If you see the last few games, he has batted really well, he has taken time. There is a lot of improvement in his batting. I feel whenever he is aggressive - by aggressive I don't mean stepping out and hitting the ball, it's more about positively defending a ball, because that can be an aggressive mindset. He has been batting well in the last few games. It's an ideal setup, this is a big game, he is a big-game player. He can transform starts into a big innings."
About the pressure on himself, Dhoni said he can handle these situations well. "That's one thing I have done really good," he said. "Whether it was the 2007 World Cup or when it was the 2011 World Cup, when people appreciate me, I don't go to seventh heaven and go outside my way. When people criticise me, it's the same.
"In India we have extreme opinions. We praise someone very highly, and in a few games we start pulling the same individual down. I always say it's important to be in the middle path. That's how you will enjoy the sport. I have been quite good at maintaining that. Whether you win a game or lose it, the basics remain the same. It hasn't been difficult not watching TV or reading newspapers. I have not been doing it for quite some time now."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo