Indian captain Mahendra Singh
Dhoni today virtually ruled out the possibility of his side
playing with three front-line spinners in the first Test
against England on a dry Sardar Patel Stadium wicket here
This would mean that senior off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, recalled to the side after more than one year in the wilderness, will be left out of the playing eleven with R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha getting the nod.
"Maybe, if we get a wicket like the one at Kanpur against South Africa (in 2008), we will go in with four spinners. What we need to see is that if we get a wicket like that the fast bowlers also get a bit of reverse swing. It's always advisable to have a bowling attack to have people (available) for different scenarios," said Dhoni at the customary pre-match media conference.
Dhoni also informed that speedster Ishant Sharma will not play in first Test as he is yet to recover while all others, including Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav who did not practice today with the rest of the team, were available for selection.
"Ishant has got viral and not recovered fully. All others are available," said Dhoni.
On Ashok Dinda, called up as back-up for Sharma, Dhoni said it was just an extra precaution that the team has taken.
"He is just a back up. If someone breaks down in the night or tomorrow morning then he comes into the picture," said the India wicketkeeper.
Explaining the absence of Zaheer and Yadav from practice today, Dhoni said it was as per the team's plans as they wanted to give the two pace bowlers some rest after the long practice sessions over the last few days in Mumbai and here.
"That's our plan. We had longish sessions in Mumbai when we were there (from November 9-11) and over the last two days here. (These were) long sessions for them. We said it would be good to give them rest (today)," he said.
Dhoni refused to be drawn into a debate on whether or not it was a revenge series for the team for the 4-0 thrashing it had received from England last year in the latter's backyard.
"I know for a fact that when we go to the field there will be a red ball, two teams that will play. You can name it whatever you want. That does not change the fact that from tomorrow we will go in and play Test cricket," he said.
Dhoni ruled out breaking up of the opening partnership of Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag despite the Delhi pair's indifferent form in the previous home rubber against New Zealand and the earlier series in Australia.
"Gautam (Gambhir) and Viru pa (Sehwag) will open the innings," he said, to end any speculation on the issue.
He also praised the complementary roles played by his two frontline spin bowlers R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha.
"They (Ashwin and Ojha) understand each other really well, something that's very important. Ojha is someone who can keep it tight at one end and Ashwin will always be a more aggressive bowler, someone who has got plenty of variations and loves to use those. One of the important roles of Ojha is to keep it tight while Ashwin can attack from the other end.
"We have seen innings where Ojha got breakthrough while Ashwin did a bit of containing job. Both of them are able to get wickets for us. The best part is, if there is something for them they make sure they come into the game," he said.
On the role of Harbhajan, Dhoni said the feisty Punjab off-spinner brings in his vast experience from which the other two younger spinners could benefit.
"If you see the top 4-5 spinners, Bhaji definitely features there. The good thing is he was out of the side and is now part of this series which means he can share his experience with some of these youngsters," said Dhoni.
"Ojha has played with him (Harbhajan) in some matches. He can share things with Ashwin because Ashwin is slightly different to him. I feel he has got a big amount of contribution to make in the coming series. Of course he will work a lot with the team," he said.
Dhoni praised the fighter in Yuvraj Singh - on and off the field - and said the left-handed batsman has already slipped back into Test cricket after a long gap.
"He looks in good shape. It takes a lot of fitness to score a double hundred; just hoping that he does not have to field for two days. There is no need for the car which is capable of a long haul to be driven the full distance. Our effort will be to make the route shorter.
"He's an aggressive character. He's someone who really wants to perform at the top level. The best thing for us is he bats at number five or six and his left-arm spin. It's a very important role for us as we don't have a genuine all-rounder and play with four bowlers. His contribution will be very important. He can be quite intimidating the way he bats. He is someone who can really dominate," Dhoni said.
"Good thing is he's not starting (international career) from this tour. He was part of the T20 side also. He has got a fair amount of exposure Good thing is his fight, you all know about his fight (against rare germ cell cancer). He's a strong character. I think he will be up and ready for it."
He also predicted an entertaining contest between Yuvraj and his bunny, recalled England batsman Kevin Pietersen who calls the Indian pie-chucker for his part-time left-arm spin bowling.
"I never doubted that he (Pietersen) would be part of the squad when the English team comes to India whatever was happening around at that point of time. Of course he is a great batsman who loves to play his shots. You will enjoy the contest between him and the pie-chucker," he said.
Though Dhoni was not willing to openly say that the wicket at the Motera stadium would crumble at some stage, Dhoni expected it to help the spinners a bit.
"It looks like a good wicket though I am not a great reader of wickets. It may slow down and spinners would get a bit of assistance. (There) may be a bit of reverse swing for the fast bowlers. I will see how it behaves. Definitely it looks to be on the drier side," Dhoni said.
"I feel they have changed the soil from the last time we have played here. They have used a bit more of clay into the preparation of the wicket. Definitely I feel it will turn. But will have to see the pace of the wicket," he explained.
Dhoni said the Indian team would never disrespect England though his side are playing at home.
"What is important is you need to respect the opposition.
You play 60 to 70 per cent of your cricket in your own country and you are supposed to be good there. Once you go to a different part of the world it's a fresh challenge for you.
Every country feels the same. It's no different for England.
"When we go out we also face big challenges. That's why I feel each and every tour is very special. It's the same for the English side," Dhoni remarked.
He said it was not under his instruction that England were denied practice in their three-warm-up games against some top Indian spinners, barring a few overs from Amit Mishra in the last game here.
"That's an administrative decision about which I cannot say. No instructions went sent from my side," he said.
On the call from retired great Rahul Dravid to give a more hands-on role to coach Duncan Fletcher in selection matters, Dhoni said the coach was already a part of the selection process (though without a vote).
"We (captain and coach) are part of selection process.
It's a new selection committee. We had a very good first meeting. Let's see how it goes. As of now we are definitely a big part (of the committee)," Dhoni said.