Dhoni hints at playing three spinners in Nagpur Test
It is the biggest test of character for Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his men. The Indian team has never fared so poorly in a home Test series and calls to axe the captain and some senior players are growing louder by the day.
Thus, it's going to be a perform or perish situation when they take on England in the fourth and final Test, which starts on Thursday in Nagpur. Victory will enable India tie the series 2-2, while defeat will consign them to a 3-1 loss, their first in a Test series at home in eight years.
With the leading batsmen struggling to get runs, and bowlers finding it hard against the in-form English batting line-up, India's big hopes rest largely on the pitch.
Image: M S Dhoni addresses the media in Nagpur on Wednesday
'An additional spinner will be more effective in the second innings'
The wicket, which was left open to dry under the blazing sun for the last two days, is devoid of grass and looks pale. There is a strong possibility that it will offer a lot of assistance to the spinners from day one, though the curator and his staff have tried to convince that they have prepared a sporting wicket.
Dhoni gave a strong hint of going in with three spinners to take advantage of the dry wicket at the VCA stadium in Jamtha. With leg-spinner Piyush Chawla set to make a Test comeback and partner R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha, Ishant Sharma will be the lone pace bowler.
"We could play three spinners. If you weigh the pacers and spinners and see what might play a bigger role, there will be some reverse swing. So we will have to see what we go in with. Maybe, an additional spinner will be more effective in the second innings. We will have to wait and see," Dhoni said, on Wednesday.
His analysis of the pitch was clear cut.
"The wicket looks good; it is quite hard. How it behaves will depend on that. It is a composition of black soil."
Image: The strip on which the Test will be played
'If you are part of Indian cricket you will see everything is under the microscope'
All-rounder Ravindra Jadeja is set to make his Test debut, given his recent good form with both bat and ball in domestic cricket, which means Ajinkya Rahane will again miss out on a place in the playing eleven.
Dhoni suffered two consecutive 4-0 series whitewashes in England and Australia and is on the verge of a Test series loss at home. But the 31-year-old skipper is not ready to quit .
"Let's see... till I am enjoying it, because that is something that is very important. It is about when you are enjoying the sport as an individual; because if you are not enjoying, then it becomes very difficult.
"If you are part of Indian cricket what you will see is that everything is under the microscope and everybody has an opinion about cricket. The good thing or bad thing is that everybody is asking questions which we are also asking, but nobody comes up with a solution, and that is the brilliant part of it.
"That is how it goes in India. Cricket is a sport in India which is followed in a big way; the fan-following is big and everybody has an opinion about what is going on," he added.
Image: Ravindra Jadeja takes a break during Wednesday's nets session
'We have to do well in this game'
Experts are suggesting that Dhoni be dropped from the Test side if he fails to win in Nagpur. Asked if the upcoming match is the most important of his Test career, since so many critics are openly slamming him, he replied: "I would say not only as the captain but also an individual. Tough situations tell you a lot about a player's character and the team's character."
Dhoni is hoping to derive inspiration from the drawn series against South Africa in 2010, when India won the last Test in Kolkata and leveled the two-match series 1-1.
"When you are part of the team you come across situations like these... like when were in a similar position in the series against South Africa at home when we were 1-2 down. So you do come across such situations and I am not saying it is a good situation to be in.
In a way, it is good we are in a position like this because we have nowhere to go and we have to do well in this game," he said.
Image: Gautam Gambhir and Ishant Sharma in discussion with coach Duncan Fletcher
'Tendulkar is the best man to have in the side at the moment'
He also slammed theories that Sachin Tendulkar has lost his touch with the bat and should hang his boots after the Nagpur Test.
"He is the best man to have in the side at the moment. The amount of experience he has got and the kind of performances he has given under pressure over the years is something we all look up to.
"When it comes to Sachin, I believe the best thing is not to speculate, because he has proved everyone wrong throughout his career, over the years. There is nothing really to speculate. Let him enjoy cricket; that is what important," he said.
Similarly, Dhoni defended the other non-performers in the squad, saying a couple of bad games should not be held against them.
"That is getting very critical, a series or two or a rough patch. Everybody was talking about this phase in Indian cricket where the big players will move on and the pressure will come on the youngsters, many of whom go through a rough patch. I think everybody expected this kind of a patch.
"Of course, we struggled in the last two Test matches, and if you ask big questions after two tough Test matches, I think, it will come in the future too where we will lose two Test matches and people will say all the youngsters should go out and somebody else should come in.
"You have to be consistent; you have to keep faith in the players. For people who have done a lot for Indian cricket over the years, on the basis of a series or two Test matches, or half season, it will be difficult if you are asking questions," he said.
Image: Dhoni with the ground's curator
'When it comes to the dressing room, it is looking great'
Dhoni is also under a lot of criticism for his defensive tactics and inability to get more out of his players, especially the bowlers. But he defended his approach of not talking to the bowlers regularly, saying he does not believe in spoon-feeding them.
"But what's important to know is that whenever the captain goes to talk to the bowler he does not give any magical advice at that time. Everybody, when it comes to the bowling coach, the coach or the captain, or the senior players, they are constantly there to help the bowlers, but, ultimately, it is up to the bowlers to execute their plans.
"It does not happen that I will tell something different during the match. I always felt it is important not to spoon feed. We have these regular drink breaks every hour where you can go and talk to the bowlers, so it doesn't send a sense of panic, because it is important to keep the atmosphere calm and cool.
"Sachin is there, Viru is always there at mid-on or mid-off, and they constantly keep talking the bowlers. So there is no need for the captain to run towards the bowler every time and tell something," he said.
Despite the two successive defeats, he stressed that the team is united and the mood in the dressing room is positive.
"The spirit is really good. That is something that we have maintained quite well because in tough times the only people whom you can support or who will support you are the team members and, of course, the support staff. We have kept it really close and the good thing is that we are enjoying cricket, which, I feel, we don't tend to do when we are going through rough times. When it comes to the dressing room, it is looking great," he affirmed.
Image: Members of the Indian team and coaching staff have a word at the VCA stadium