As India arrived for practice on Wednesday, skipper MS Dhoni made a dash for the 22-yard strip to check the condition of the track. After a chat with the curator, Praveen Hinganikar, Dhoni walked back to the pavilion. Perhaps, there were some last-minute instructions to be given to the curator, as a win here has acquired an altogether different meaning for the home team skipper.
Dhoni's captaincy is at its lowest ebb. After leading the side to the pinnacle of Test and one-day cricket, he has seen his team struggle for survival. In fact, there is also a big question mark over coach Duncan Fletcher's methods. Having taken over from Gary Kirsten, who guided the team to World Cup triumph, the Zimbabwean has failed to maintain the level of performance. The fourth Test against England, starting today, might throw up scary possibilities not just for the team but for individuals too. Dhoni agreed as much.
"This is the most important Test not just as captain, but as an individual too," said Dhoni, adding, "In India, everyone asks questions but no one comes up with solutions."
England, who are leading the series 2-1, will taste their first series win in India in 28 years if they manage to avoid a home team win.
The onus is on the hosts to claw back, as they risk losing a series at home for the first time since Australia visited the country in 2004.
In an uncanny similarity, it was the loss in the third Test against Australia at Nagpur in October 2004 that cost India the series. The hammering in that game started the national team's downslide. Greg Chappell replaced the then coach, John Wright, after his contract expired in May 2005.
It also marked the downfall of skipper Sourav Ganguly, who had cited injury as the reason for opting out of the third and fourth Tests, contradictory to reports that he was unhappy with the wicket at Nagpur. This Test is not being played at the old stadium, where the clash against Australia took place, but the portents are similar.
Dhoni's insistence on turners after the Ahmedabad victory backfired and England turned the tables on India. With only six wins, 10 losses and three draws, Fletcher is failing to justify his stay. Dhoni could be right when he says that the transition phase is never easy, but couldn't the period been planned better?