Ahmedabad, Nov. 15 -- How Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar would have relished captaining in the current India set-up! They could plead or threaten local cricket officials but there would be no guarantee that they could save the team's interest at all the venues. Ganguly's fight with the Vidarbha Cricket Association ahead of the Nagpur Test against Australia in 2004 and Tendulkar's frustration at his home ground in Mumbai against South Africa in 2000 are still fresh in the memory. They couldn't swallow the fact that they were made to play to the opposition's strengths. India lost both the Tests on seaming tracks. Ganguly pulled out of the Nagpur Test citing injury, leaving Rahul Dravid to lead as Australia won their first series in India since 1969.
The Indian cricket board set-up has changed so much that it looks like skipper MS Dhoni only has to express a wish and it will be granted. As India gear up for the Test series against England, the entire machinery is moving in one direction. Alastair Cook's men can be excused for feeling that they are up against the entire Indian cricket set-up than just their players. The mind games began the moment they landed. Irrespective of the venue, the game plan to hamper their preparations against spin has been carried out without a murmur.
The Gujarat Cricket Association has done its best to cater to all of the India team's needs. Most importantly, the wicket has been given the colour and look that Dhoni loves - bald and brown. The first Test at the Sardar Patel Stadium will be played on a dry, turning wicket which is tailor-made for R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha to exploit the England batsmen's weakness against spin.
It's not just the Indian Board which is being mean. The truth is the sport is passing through a mediocre phase and no team looks like it can dominate in all conditions and against all opposition. Australia's tall claims of playing on sporting (seaming) tracks against India lay exposed when they laid out a docile wicket at the Gabba for the drawn first Test after they were confronted by South Africa's fast bowlers.
Emotions will run high when India face England in their bid to avenge the 0-4 rout in 2011. However, one is not sure if the quality of cricket that will be produced during these contests will live up to the billing.
The last time they clashed in India in 2008-09, the Chennai Test was a classic after India pulled off a record fourth innings chase.
Then, as captain, Dhoni was at the top of his game. He is now struggling to convince how he has managed to retain his position despite the back-to-back routs abroad. Cook, on the other hand, will be leading in his first Test.
Only Sachin Tendulkar is left from the great middle-order with VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid having retired. India's batting line-up could well be the weakest in a decade as openers Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir haven't scored a century for nearly two years. Tendulkar, in his 40th year, will be under pressure after being clean bowled in all three innings in the series against New Zealand.
He has warmed up with a Ranji Trophy hundred but as he begins his 24th international season, his personal
battle against James Anderson will be keenly awaited. In 19 face-offs, the fast bowler has claimed Tendulkar's wicket seven times.
It's the same story with England's batting. Andrew Strauss, who scored hundreds in each innings in Chennai the last time, has retired. The line-up will be heavily dependent on Kevin Pietersen.
While they can be tigers at home, England's weakness against spin was evident in the 0-3 whitewash against Pakistan at the start of the year in the United Arab Emirates.
Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.