MS Dhoni couldn’t have missed the similarities when he arrived for the media conference as the victorious captain on Wednesday. A couple of months ago against England, his team had begun the series in identical fashion - a rousing victory at Ahmedabad against Alastair Cook’s men.
The colour of the track was ditto - dusty brown - and the script turned out to be the same at Chennai - a comprehensive India win over Australia. Like against England, the series against Australia also about revenge, for the 4-0 humiliation last year.
At Motera, the skipper was in an uncharacteristically belligerent mood, making some big statements. It was a perfect game, but the captain declared he was not happy with the wicket and wanted the curators to give him surfaces offering more turn and bounce in the next matches.
More than a wounded lion, it had seemed like he was letting ego dictate logic. On Tuesday, after drawing first blood against Australia, Dhoni was more controlled. Hopefully, the lessons have been learnt. When playing with an average team, it is advisable to follow the template that has worked over the years.
The defeat to England exposed the fact that his men aren’t equipped to play on sporting wickets, not even on surfaces that offer turn to spinners but have pace. His team’s best bet is slow, spiteful turners that deteriorate with the passage of play for it negates the opposition’s advantage. The template was set at Ahmedabad and the five days in Chennai were further proof of it.
This point was driven home when Dhoni’s wish for a rank turner was granted by the confused Wankhede ground staff for the second Test against England. The track started offering vicious turn from the start and his struggling batsmen failed to handle the pace in the wicket. With sharp spin available, Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar were menacing than India’s spin trio that played in that Test.
The art of bowling on a slow turner is different. The advantage lies with the Indian spinners, who know how to exploit it better with their set of variations, by drawing the batsman forward with flight.
It’s not a great exhibition for the game, but to maintain the home record, a slow wicket is India’s strength for it also solves batting issues against quality pace.
In Chennai, the curator had squeezed the turf dry to render the Australian pace power ineffective. It didn’t come as a surprise that the James Pattinson-led pace pack’s success came mostly when the ball was new. Normally, early inroads help put pressure on the middle-order. In Australia and in England, India fared poorly on most occasions when the openers didn’t click. Here, on a docile surface, it didn’t make much impact. After a long time, almost everyone in the Indian middle-order got runs.
The contest for the Border-Gavasakar series, though, is likely to get more even in the remaining three Tests. The curators will struggle to prepare designer pitches like the one that was rolled out at the MA Chidambaram Stadium.
The Australian batsman will find batting easier at Hyderabad and their pacers will find conditions at Mohali, the third Test venue, more encouraging.
Against England, Dhoni realised the perils of overconfidence as India were ambushed when England came back hard. It remains to be seen if Michael Clarke’s men also have it in them to respond strongly. The Indian skipper will do well to be on guard.