Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s captaincy faces its biggest acid test as his side has to defend its honour at home. The eight successive defeats overseas marred his otherwise fantastic record, but a likely home series loss to England could prove to be the coup de grace. The whole lead-up to the crucial Test has been very distracting for the team with reports of disharmony within the team leaking out and an ex-selector on a revelation spree. Never in the past has Dhoni’s captaincy been under such intense scrutiny.
Dhoni has majorly faced questions on the field of play. He has been a gambler of sorts – fearless in chancing his luck which most captains won’t. How many captains would have thrown the ball to a Joginder Sharma for the final over of the ICC World T20 2007 final? Would any captain promote himself up the order in a big run-chase in the World Cup final, ahead of an in-form batsman? Dhoni’s ploys often baffled and surprised people, but invariably produced the right results.
In a sense, India needed that calm and fearless head at the helm to help break the shackles of the past. In the early 2000s, the Indian team had lost a number of tournament finals after breezing through the initial rounds. That it became a psychological block was evident and even some of the stalwarts weren’t able to push down the walls. Thus, someone who could defy history and set his own course is what Indian cricket needed and enter Dhoni.
It is said that fortune favours the brave and Dhoni’s victorious journey has been proof of that. While some might say that he has been lucky or that he has the Midas touch, one cannot ignore the fact that he has the conviction to back his decisions. They worked for quite a while until India hit a trough last year. Automatically, the fingers were pointed at him and that he had lost that element of fortune. Since then there have been occasions when he hasn’t been his usual fearless self and which is why the “luck” may have eluded him.
A very pertinent hurdle in Dhoni’s way since the last year has been his man-management skills. There were reports about his rift with Virender Sehwag as early as 2009, but they weren’t heeded as India were doing well then and were winning consistently. However, these reports butted their ugly heads during the nightmarish overseas run and this time no one was going to ignore them. In defeat, human beings tend to over analyse and in victory they revel to eclipse all the Achilles heels.
The frequency of the reports about certain rifts, disagreements or dissatisfaction have been flying thick and fast for quite some time and some might say that there is no smoke without fire. With the team going through a rough phase, there are bound to be problems and it is nothing but natural. However, it is all about handling such situations and that is where Dhoni would be tested.
This is Dhoni’s test not in cricketing terms alone, but also his leadership in a humanistic sense. He has to shield his men from all the disturbing reports and pump them up for the battle on the field. If there are certain problems within the team or with a particular player, he has to take charge and handle it pragmatically. He should be in a position to tell his men, “Look, what has happened has happened. What we can do now is go out there and give it everything for this game.” The leader – not the cricket captain – has to come alive in Dhoni to steer the Indian ship through this storm.
Nagpur could be the Dhoni’s defining moment which could make or break him as a Test captain. Will he survive the big challenge?
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst, anchor and voice-over artist for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He has also participated on live TV talk-shows on cricket. Nishad can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44)