Dhoni right to bemoan slow pitches
For all he might have done wrong over the last 18 months, MS Dhoni can't be faulted for his calls for pitches that will make for more exciting Test cricket, pitches with bounce and turn as opposed to ones with no bounce and slow turn. The Sardar Patel Stadium pitch definitely fell in the latter category, and that is why Dhoni "doesn't even want to look at it". And it's good to see that Dhoni's pleas aren't being affected by results.
India might have won the Ahmedabad Test - and to outsiders it might look like the perfect pitch, negating the England fast bowlers and offering some help to the Indian spinners - but it was just the kind of track India have had a problem with. A better batting line-up or better application from this line-up or a different outcome at the toss would have ensured a drab draw. For a while it seemed that India were uncertain about their own batting and had opted for safety in the first Test, but Dhoni's press conference cleared those doubts.
Ever since he made that call, Dhoni is being criticised for openly asking groundsmen to "doctor the pitches". Among others, Steve Waugh, former Australia captain, told PTI: "Dhoni's comments this morning were really negative to the game, when he asked Indian curators to doctor the pitches, which I can't understand.
"You want to be aggressive and be the best in the world, you have got to take all the conditions and not always ask for the conditions that suits your style of play. I was a bit surprised with that. I think if you are looking to be the best in the world you have got to learn to play in all conditions."
While Waugh is right in repeating that India need to play well in all conditions, he will also know it is not done through pitches in home Tests. Australia didn't prepare for their India tours through rank turners at Gabba. The other thing that is often forgotten is Dhoni has been driven into making these statements by groundsmen who just don't play ball. At times, even Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble have struggled to get groundsmen to give them home advantage.
Dhoni is not "always" asking for these conditions; he is almost pleading, "For once, let me have them." Nor is he the first captain to have asked for certain conditions in a home Test; it's just that he is doing so openly because covert conversations haven't had any effect.
Dhoni's first Test as captain was in Kanpur in 2008, a square turner that produced an exciting Test that ended in three days. Dhoni was standing in for the injured Anil Kumble then. Later that year, Kumble retired, and Dhoni took over full time. It's been four years since, and Dhoni has yet to captain India on a proper turner.
Consequently, even during their best times, India couldn't whitewash Sri Lanka, New Zealand and West Indies in series longer than two Tests, forget stronger teams. In four years, there hasn't been a single pitch in India that would test the batsmen to the fullest, and that is a variety the game needs just as much as it does the green and overcast Headingley or Kingsmead's Green Mamba or WACA's trampoline bounce.
Dhoni and his spinners' main grouse with pitches in India has for long been the lack of bounce more than the turn, but all India has seen over the last four years is low and slow pitches. Contrary to the belief that Dhoni is asking for the easy way out, pitches with turn and bounce will only even the playing field. If it will make life a little easier for the Indian bowlers, England's fast bowlers will also prefer the bounce, Graeme Swann will become more effective, and also England's batsmen will find value for their shots.
To blame the groundsmen alone can't be the solution, though. The ICC doesn't like the ball turning from day one. It wants to standardise all pitches. In Galle last year, Michael Hussey and Mahela Jayawardene played two of their most-cherished innings, and Australia posted one of their most-cherished wins, only because the conditions were so difficult. The ICC, though, put the groundsman on notice. It is perfectly understandable for the Indian groundsmen to not risk the Jayananda Warnaweera fate.
Dhoni, though, in his own way, tried to emphasise the ICC shouldn't have a problem with turn on the first day because it doesn't have a problem with seam on the first morning. Change that claim with seam on the third or fourth day, and Dhoni is on to something. Except that, if the groundsmen do oblige Dhoni the captain in the upcoming Tests, Dhoni the keeper will have to raise his game drastically: his missed stumpings, especially that of Nick Compton when he wasn't even expecting the ball to come to him, didn't make for good viewing. That, though, is a story for another day.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo