There is nothing in cricket that can be confidently called a tailor-made pitch

CAPTAIN Cool is not so cool, after all. These days, you can see volcanic fumes shoot out of his ears as Mahendra Singh Dhoni does a fair imitation of an old broken record.

“I want the pitch to turn from the first ball on the first day. I want the pitch to turn square from day one.’’

Dhoni’s mantra for an Indian revival is so tiresomely repetitive that many cricket lovers may have simply chosen to ignore it — as a well-meaning parent would in face of repeated requests for chocolates from the little one.

It does appear that Dhoni does not want a turner as the icing on the cake but as the whole cake itself!A trained psychologist will see Dhoni’s tantrum for what it is. Members of our species have an innate tendency to mistake repetition for truth. In psychological parlance, it is called the “illusion of truth effect.”

Dhoni surely believes that by picking ideas to fit his preconceptions and then repeating them tirelessly while cleverly manipulating the media and using them as he pleases, he can get what he wants.

Then again, seemingly reasonable demands are quite often based on unreasonable foundations and Dhoni’s prescription to cure the ills of the Indian side at home would certainly belong to this category.

A man who has been celebrated for his grace under pressure and toasted as a natural while donning the leadership hat, has suddenly offered us a peek into his other side, a facet of his personality that was well hidden from public view as long as his luck held and India climbed to the No.1 ranking in Test cricket.

Unforgiving business

But professional sport is an unforgiving business in the long run and even the most resourceful and fortunate of men find themselves stripped bare in its harsh glare. In the event, in Dhoni’s case, there have been quite a few character-revealing moments in the last few weeks even as his team’s form has dipped precipitously.

To be sure, leading the Indian cricket team is among the most challenging tasks in the world of sport today. It is a lot like walking a tightrope without a net below. As a great philosopher said of life itself, in a strictly intellectual context, “a buffoon may be fatal to it.”

Yet it does have its perks as no doubt Dhoni realised — as long as the honeymoon lasted. Then, one after the other, some of the giants of Indian cricket — among them Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman — left the stage and, sooner than you might have expected, Captain Cool found himself in a not-so-cool business.

Even before their departure, eight successive overseas defeats — four against Australia and four against England — might have done a bit of damage to Dhoni’s much-celebrated self-confidence. But that cannot be the only reason why he should find himself in such a pitiable situation today.

Curator targeted

Eden Gardens’ veteran curator, Prabir Mukherjee, a self-respecting senior who has taught many younger curators quite a few valuable lessons in the art of pitch preparation, found himself being targeted by Dhoni.

The Indian captain is such a hugely influential figure in the corridors of power that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) found itself swallowing its pride and dashing off an email to the Cricket Association of Bengal in an attempt to please Dhoni.

Mukherjee, not one to take such insults lying down, promptly threatened to apply for a month’s medical leave from his job just to make sure that all of us know that he was not bowing to pressure from above, although he did decide to stick to his post later.

Come Friday, Dhoni might have his way. But who can guarantee that a vicious snake-pit would help his side go ahead in the four-Test series? After all, Panesar and Swann did exactly what was expected of Ashwin, Ojha and Harbhajan as England brought up a famous victory in Mumbai to level the series.

Bitter truth

The bitter truth is this. Whatever you may think your team’s strengths are, there is nothing in cricket that can be confidently called a tailor-made pitch. An under-prepared surface can blow up in your face as often as it can turn hostile when the visiting batsmen are at the crease.

The better team may not always be successful, but it will win more often than not, whatever the conditions. Clive Lloyd’s West Indians, in this columnist’s view the greatest team ever to play Test cricket — even better than Don Bradman’s Invincibles — did their job with four fast bowlers wherever they played. They did not need a typical Perth wicket to prove themselves superior.

Dhoni may not have the resources that Lloyd commanded. But that is no reason to become a cry-baby and petulantly demand that a Test match — expected to be decided over five exciting and nerve-wracking days — should, instead, be played on a nightmarish strip that is likely to fast-track a match to its conclusion in the span of three days.

Little wonder then, Mukherjee chose to slam this tactic as “immoral,” in an interview with CNN-IBN. He believes that such a move would leave the spectators short-changed; and he is right.

Fair cricket. To those familiar with the great game and its much-cherished culture, this might sound like an oxymoron. But that is what is in demand in India today.