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Wish for rank turner

MSD'S pitch itch

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DEVIL IN THE DETAIL: Indian skipper MS Dhoni has been a vocal advocate for turning wickets for international games at home

As the Mumbai Test kicks off, Dhoni's wish for a rank turner seems to have come true. But experts feel his demand lacks 'positive intent'.

The 'dust' of a victory against England hadn't yet settled down when MS Dhoni came up with his bombshell in Ahmedabad. "We want pitches that should turn from Day 1, " Dhoni's comment came as a bolt from the blue for all those who were present at the Motera for five days watching India toil on a rank turner. Dhoni was clearly displeased about the quality of the pitch even though Graeme Swann got the ball to turn from the first day itself and went on take five wickets in the Indian first innings.

The Indian spinners worked hard for close to three days, and with some assistance from the pacers, who got the ball to reverse, won the match after lunch on Day 5. It was pretty much a spinning track which slowed down as the game progressed, which leaves Bishan Singh Bedi, legendary Indian left-arm spinner and former captain, stumped by Dhoni's comment. "I can't quite understand what he meant by that statement? The world knows that pitches in the subcontinent turn. Why do you need to shout for it from the rooftops, " says Bedi, clearly displeased by the Indian captain's line of thinking.

While the then captain Mohammad Azharuddin and manager Ajit Wadekar made the 'designer pitch' theory popular in the early 1990s and unleashed three spinners on rivals at home, Sourav Ganguly, too, in his heydays always asked for pitches which should have something for the spinners. But none of them went on record asking for pitches that would turn from the first day of the Test match. Former Indian medium-pacer Venkatesh Prasad feels "Dhoni's reaction might well be a strategy to build pressure on England", but is quick to add that if the team management is really serious about it, they "shouldn't ask too much from the faster bowlers when they go abroad".

"It's not something that the pace bowlers would like to hear. . . After bowling on lifeless pitches at home both in domestic and international matches, you can't expect them to deliver the goods abroad, " Prasad, who was the Indian bowling coach for a couple of years, says.

The former Karnataka paceman is now the coach of the UP team, which has quite a few good medium-pacers in the line-up, and he is really worried the way things are going. "The board wants lively pitches for domestic cricket and then the associations come up with pitches where the first innings of the two teams don't get over. On top of that, the Indian captain wants pitches which should turn from Day 1. These are not good signs, " a clearly worried Prasad says.

The rest of the cricket world hasn't taken Dhoni's statement too kindly either. While former Australian captain Steve Waugh has said that "doctoring pitches" is not the way out, Greg Chappell, in his column has said that it's important "to have a vision, plan to succeed and invite all to get on board and support the positive intent".

According to Bedi, it is the "positive intent" that is seriously lacking in Dhoni's approach. "This shows that there's a complete lack of communication between the Board and the captain. Dhoni should be hauled up for a statement like this. And let's not forget, we are going to play a Test series in South Africa in 2013, where the pitches will be fast and bouncy. "

Bedi says that cricket pitches across the world have their distinctive nature and that's what makes the game so beautiful. "In Australia, pitches in Adelaide, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney are all different. The Australian team that won so much, never wanted doctored pitches but played well on all surfaces. And that's what made them such a good team all across the globe, " the former Indian spinner points out.

Both Prasad and Bedi feel that the Indian spinners should learn to take wickets on different kinds of tracks, if they have to earn the respect of the cricket world. Both of them sounded the warning bell. "And it's not just the spinners. It doesn't augur well for the Indian batting line-up which is going through a rebuilding phase. They score huge runs on tracks like these and develop a false sense of confidence. It's a new crop and let's give them an idea as to what the reality is, " says Prasad.

But the BCCI, keen to revive the image of Indian cricket after the 0-8 whitewash last year in England and Australia, has already told the hosting associations of the Test matches to produce "fast turners". In all probability, Dhoni's demands will be met and a rosy scoreline will be the perfect cover-up story for the flaws that are so intrinsic to Indian cricket.
But then, who cares?

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