India v England, 3rd Test, Kolkata December 4, 2012

Dhoni's real issues are in his team

All the talk about the state of Kolkata pitch has deflected attention away from the real problems in the India team

MS Dhoni must be sick and tired of being asked about the state of pitches and his preferences and groundsmen. He has had a hard time explaining to people that he doesn't want slow turn and low bounce, and can't understand what is wrong with his views. You can argue his way of going about getting that - public criticism of pitches - is not ideal, but his demands are ideal: Mumbai made for far more exciting cricket than Ahmedabad.

It's the result in Mumbai - when Indian spinners were thoroughly outplayed - that has lost Dhoni's idea some fans in India, but the captain is willing to die by the spin sword. Once again, his pre-match press conference was dominated by questions surrounding the pitch.

"If you are not doing that [playing on pitches that turn and bounce], the concept of playing around the world and facing different challenges goes down the drain," Dhoni said in response. "Because if you come to India, why do you want to play on wickets that are flat on the first three or four days? Sometimes you have seen even five days are not good enough to get a result. So I feel the challenge is to play on tracks that turn and assist the spinners. It doesn't matter if we lose a few games or if you win the series…

"It's not like when Australia play in Australia or when England play in England, they win all the games. Still they stick to the kind of speciality they have got. It's the same for subcontinental teams."

Dhoni is not letting one defeat change his mindset. He had to make that clarification three to four times. And by all accounts, he is not getting the pitch he wants in Kolkata. Going by his own description of the surface, Dhoni and his team will have to play on just the track he doesn't want. He expects no help for spinners, and is relying on wear and tear.

At the same time, India could be secretly looking at all this pitch talk as some sort of respite. They are well and truly under the pump. If Indian Test cricket were strong right now, more than half the team would be playing for their places in the side. If this pitch talk had not dominated the aftermath of arguably India's worst Test defeat since they first became a competitive side, Dhoni would have had a tough time defending some of his players, and some of his captaincy moves for that matter.

Deep down, Dhoni will know the pitch is one of the lesser concerns for India right now. For even if they keep getting spitting turners every time, their spinners are no better than an even chance of winning them the match. Only one of their batsmen can claim to be not under pressure. Well, make it two: Virender Sehwag usually doesn't take much pressure either.

It must be getting a little tiresome for Dhoni to come out and defend some of the players. Asked about the openers - and barring Sehwag's century in Ahmedbabad, neither of them has done anything extraordinary for two years - Dhoni said: "We are a side that relies a lot on the openers. We don't really want to put extra pressure on them. What's important is for them to enjoy their game.

"If you see Viru Pa, he just loves to go onto the field and express himself. We just want the two individuals to back the kind of game they play. It's just a matter of time. They have done well if you see the recent few games. Both of them have scored runs; if they score together in the same innings, it will be a great plus for us."

About whether the break between the Tests had been enough for them to sort their issues out, Dhoni said they were not losing sleep over the Mumbai defeat. "Winning and losing games is part and parcel of what we do," he said. "I don't think cricketers get bothered a lot if they lose a game, and they aren't really at the top of their emotions when they win a series or a game.

"The good thing is, the bowlers had to do a lot of work in both the first two matches, so the rest between the games will really help them to come back to their best. It gives time for the batsmen to assess the situation as to what went wrong, so it was a healthy break for both the sides."

There is not much else Dhoni can say when all indications from the selectors suggest there aren't many replacements available for consistently underperforming players. What he needs from his team-mates is the kind of improvement he showed in his keeping after a horrid Test in Ahmedabad.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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