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Sunday, December 5, 2021

Dhoni dhamaka fizzling out?

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Will the Indian captain make a convincing comeback at the CWC 2015? 

As Mahendra Singh Dhoni gets ready to lead India in yet another ODI overseas series, it’s time to examine his real legacy and question whether he is the best ever Indian skipper of all time. Dhoni is certainly considered a good all-time finisher when it comes to the shorter format of the game, but something is amiss in the longer Test format.

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ODI vs Test 

If this discussion is restricted to the shorter formats of the game, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. Victory in the World T-20 in South Africa in 2007, at the 2011 Cricket World Cup in India, and in the Champions Trophy 2013 in England, MS Dhoni as captain has been the cornerstone of India’s successes. To the extent that even a failed title defense in the World Cup 2015 in Australia and NZ wouldn’t much impact his existing legacy.

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When it comes to Test cricket, however, the assessment changes dramatically. With Dhoni just two defeats away from the ignominious record of becoming the most defeated Test skipper overseas, it is pertinent to suggest that under him Indian Test cricket overseas has gone from bad to worse! More important than the defeats themselves, is the manner in which India has lost some of these matches. In 2011 in England, India managed to score 300 just once in eight Test innings. In Perth in 2012, the team was bundled out in under three days. And in the current series in England, India has been bowled out for under 200 in five consecutive innings, and was reduced to 66-6 in four consecutive innings. When India hasn’t crossed 150, Dhoni’s team has conceded 350+ every time the opposition has batted. England made 500+ in Southampton, 350+ at Manchester and close to 500 at the Oval, exposing India’s plight.

The Dhoni way? 

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Adding to their batting and bowling woes, India doesn’t seem to have a slip cordon in place with catches going down in every Test match. Problems have been compounded by some of the decisions Dhoni has taken as captain. As former England skipper Nasser Hussain put it, “There’s the usual way and then there’s the Dhoni way.” Unfortunately for Dhoni, it isn’t working anymore. Playing six batsmen at Southampton after winning with five on a green top at Lord’s was surprising, and to bat first at Manchester on a pitch full of moisture was an act of false bravado. Dhoni standing back to Ravindra Jadeja has already become a subject of much ridicule in England, and some of his field placements against the English tail led former India skipper Sourav Ganguly to term it “unpardonable”. Despite employing defensive fields, India conceded almost 200 runs in the last 20 overs of the England innings at the Oval, something Dhoni will find hard to forget. And in the final innings of the series India, collapsed for 94 on a decent batting pitch.

With series losses in England, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa behind him, Dhoni will face his sternest test versus Australia in less than three months. Australia, with one of the best fast bowling attacks in the world, will pose serious questions for India’s batsmen just before the 2015 Cricket World Cup. Two more defeats in the four test series and Dhoni will have lost 16 overseas Test matches, the most by any skipper. Can someone who has lost 13 of the last 16 Test matches he has played overseas, be termed as India’s best ever captain?

Comparisons and expectations 

Having taken over as skipper against Australia at home in 2001, Ganguly’s India drew the series 1-1 against England in England in 2002 and subsequently went on to draw the Test series 1-1 in Australia in 2003-04. Having taken a 1-0 lead in December 2003, the first and only time India has done so, Ganguly’s team should have gone on to win the series at Sydney, having scored 700 runs in their first innings. Thereafter Sourav’s team beat Pakistan in Pakistan for the first time in 50 years.

With regular away wins, Sourav Ganguly had created a winning habit, which was then passed on to Dravid and Kumble. Under Rahul Dravid, India scripted two famous away series wins in the West Indies and England. It was the first time in 35 years that the Indians had won a series in the West Indies in 2006, and in the very next year Dravid led India to a 1-0 series win in England for the first time since 1986. Kumble too did well overseas in the brief period as captain, the highpoint of his captaincy being the victory at Perth in January 2008.

The final countdown 

All of the good work done under Ganguly and thereafter Dravid and Kumble, seems to have been undone between 2011-2014. Dhoni will have one final crack at redemption in Australia. A series win down-under, something that has never been achieved before in India’s cricket history, will do much to brighten up his scorecard. Another series defeat however, and the mantle of the best would slip away forever. A loss in Australia would mean that some might even call Dhoni one of the worst Indian Test skippers overseas. And unfortunately for the man once credited with the Midas touch, he will have to live with it

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