Pitch it right

M.S. Dhoni exhorted Indian groundsmen to give him Test pitches that turn "right from the start", and set alight a controversy. Upon him has been heaped a bewildering barrage of criticism for daring to dictate to curators. That's not quite cricket, gasp old-timers, ready as always to draw unflattering distinctions between the circus now and the ethos back in their day. But you have to ask, wasn't Dhoni simply requesting what home teams have always taken for granted — result-oriented playing conditions that do not just work to their advantage, but showcase a tradition of cricket in the host country?

This Test series against England is a big one for Indian cricket. It is not so much a matter of settling scores for the 4-0 Test loss in England last summer, in the course of which India also lost all three one-days and the lone T20 played, as well as its spot as the top Test team. It presents instead, for players as much as for spectators, an opportunity to inject Test cricket with self-assertion and flamboyance in a way that picks up from that "whitewashed" summer of 2011. It is, in the wider sense, a chance to get folks interested in the longer narrative of Tests between the two countries.

Dhoni did not say it, but what is the harm in giving in to the temptation of reading into his demand for rank turners a natural follow-up to Graham Gooch's call to the English batsmen for "daddy hundreds"? For those who missed the mindgames of the 2011 series, Gooch, batting coach to the England squad, had set the 150-run mark for eligibility for the achievement. His batsmen heeded the call, and you had to be of an extraordinarily partisan bent to fail to applaud the effort. And if Indian bowlers felt that circumstances had conspired against them, it was really, albeit in an extreme way, a reminder that the classic India versus England encounter had always been so: Indian bowlers made to look ragged by home batsmen in English conditions, English batsmen made to look clueless by home spinners in India.

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