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Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s report card is still very much positive

Mahendra Singh Dhoni's report card is still very much positive

Passing judgement on the Indian captain — otherwise known as ‘Dhoni bashing’ — is now a major national pastime © Getty Images

It is a national pastime now to lambast MS Dhoni for the performance of the Indian side and voice demands for his removal. However, if one looks at the record of the current Indian captain and compare it with his predecessors, it seems that he has not done a bad job. Arunabha Sengupta concludes that the fortunes of the team have little to do with esoteric powers that we attribute to captaincy.
 

Now that Mahendra Singh Dhoni has completed his rigorous three-fold examination, and has been pulled up by authorities on disciplinary grounds and stopped from appearing for the final Test, it may be a good time to indulge in some performance review. After all, passing judgement on the Indian captain – otherwise known as ‘Dhoni bashing’ – is by now a major national pastime.

In between finding gilt-edged solutions to national problems through opinions about the Lokpal Bill and wondering about the name of the new Bachchan baby, the armchair analysts as well as the paid critics have been quite vocal in denouncing every move and movement of the man – the same Dhoni who very recently led the country to a World Cup triumph.

Caustic criticism is nothing new, to be expected in times of tribulation. However, the biggest concern here is that the short-sighted selectorial strategy may soon latch on to Dhoni as a convenient scapegoat, riding on the wings of public outcry, fast fabricating a show of thoughtful change in response to the deplorable showing of the team.

Out of the ‘box’ suggestions

Seven overseas losses in a row can, of course, be distressing. Suggested miracle cures have been proportionately aplenty, with the many million experts churning out their recipes of rectification. Predictably, the turncoat characteristic of the followers of the game has come to the forefront in multiple manners. The ones who had vociferously typecast Virat Kohli as a privileged brat of Indian cricket after the second Test, have suddenly started to  advocate for his Graeme Smith-like elevation to captaincy after the youngster’s second innings 75 at Perth. And curiously, voices in social networks as well as professional media, who had been bellowing about investing in youth for the future, have suggested bringing back Sourav Ganguly as captain – as a panacea for the problems. Out of box thinking indeed, if we strictly adhere to the usage of ‘box’ as in cricketing gear.

India is a country where perception plays a huge role. Quality and results finish a poor second to the deafening noise and repetition factor. FM Channels make hits of strident numbers, column space and television time turn most ridiculous of films into box office sensations. In such an environment, manufacturing the image of a past that is significantly different from what the record books tell us is not too difficult. Besides, in a nation brought up on Bollywood melodramas, subtlety is seldom accepted as a virtue. Hence, a captain who hardly allows himself a smile after clubbing a six to win the World Cup is perpetually one failure away from being branded a laid back good for nothing. Especially when considered next to others who have traditionally worn their hearts on their sleeves. So, while it is not unnatural for people to believe that Dhoni is in the process of undoing all the good that has been done by his predecessors in the past decade, it may not necessarily be the absolutely accurate picture.

Let us take a look at some of the allegations against the man, and how they fare in the face of cold facts.

Dhoni is the most successful Indian captain – overall & against Australia

Allegation 1:

India has fared excellently against strong teams in the last decade and the spineless showing of Dhoni and his team has ruined the record.

Well, the truth is that Dhoni’s record as captain is still the best among Indian skippers. If minnows are taken out of the equation, he leads the others by quite some distance. And most surprisingly, his record against the Australians still stands as the best among all the Indian captains, with twice the number of wins as the next best.

Captain

Overall Record

Record after

eliminating minnows

AgainstAustralia

Sourav Ganguly

21-13

12-12

2-2

Rahul Dravid

7-6

6-6

1-1

Anil Kumble

3-5

3-5

1-2

MS Dhoni

16-10

14-10

4-3

Given that the next year or so will see India playing mostly in their backyard, if better senses prevail and Dhoni is not forced out of the top job, this record should keep improving.

Dhoni has achieved overseas feats his predecessors never could

Allegation 2:

India’s recent successful overseas record has been dragged back by Dhoni’s team into the dark days of the 1990s.

While the last seven defeats have indeed constituted a shocking streak and has brought Dhoni’s overseas win-loss record plummeting down, he has still managed to achieve certain feats in foreign and distant lands that his predecessors could not. Namely, winning in the difficult conditions of New Zealand and squaring the series in South Africa and Sri Lanka.

The following table puts things in perspective.

Captain

Overseas Record

(eliminating minnows)

Complete Overseas

Series Wins

Overseas

Series   Losses

Overseas

Series Draws

Sourav Ganguly

5-9

Zim, Bang*

SA, WI, NZ, SL

Aus, Eng

Rahul Dravid

4-4

Eng, WI, Bang*

SA, Pak

-

Anil Kumble

1-4

-

Aus, SL

-

MS Dhoni

3-7

NZ, WI, Bang

Aus,Eng

SA, SL

 *The series victory against Pakistan in 2003-04 was achieved with Dravid leading in two Tests and Ganguly in one.

When one takes a look at the One-Day Internationals, the record of MS Dhoni stands head and shoulders above the rest. This gains even more significance when viewed in the light of the World Cup triumph.

Captain

ODI Wins

ODI Losses

Win Loss Ratio

World Cup Result

Sourav Ganguly

76

65

1.17

Runner-up

Rahul Dravid

42

33

1.27

1st round

Anil Kumble

1

0

-

-

MS Dhoni

64

38

1.68

Winner

Dhoni is the only one who performs better with the bat as a captain

Allegation 3:

Dhoni does not lead from the front.

While it is perhaps difficult to compare this attribute in figures because two of the captains during the last decade were specialist batsmen, one a champion bowler and Dhoni himself a wicket keeper, let us nevertheless try to look at the degree by which they lifted their performances as captains. If we compare the way the respective batting records of Ganguly, Dravid and Dhoni as captains contrast with their overall career figures, once again the current skipper heads the pack. In fact, Dhoni happens to be the only one among the three who performs better with the bat as captain – in both Tests and ODIs.

Captain

Career Average

(Test)

Average

as Captain

(Test)

Degree of

raising the

game as

captain

(Test)

Career

Average

(ODI)

Average

as Captain

(ODI)

Degree of raising the

game as

captain

(ODI)

Sourav Ganguly

42.17

37.66

0.89

41.02

38.66

0.94

Rahul Dravid

52.62

44.51

0.84

39.16

38.28

0.98

MS Dhoni

37.32

40.92

1.09

51.15

56.61

1.11

As the table shows beyond doubt, all allegations of his not leading from the front actually turn out to errors of perception, heuristic bias.

What one needs to remember here is that Dhoni is a specialist wicketkeeper – a position in which India has been traditionally used to men like Kiran More, Nayan Mongia and Syed Kirmani. Before Dhoni arrived on the scene, a batting average in the mid 20s was considered decent for someone whose main job was behind the stumps. Dhoni’s more- than-respectable figures in Test matches and outstanding ones in ODIs make him a phenomenal performer, more than an asset to the country. It is his presence that allows India to maintain the crucial balance in an era when most teams boast excellent wicketkeeper batsmen.

It is true that his batting record overseas is ordinary compared to that in the subcontinent, but when contrasted with other Indian wicketkeepers, he again emerges  right at the top.

The Big 3 Effect

A captain in cricket is actually, to use a cliché that has been hackneyed to the limit, as good as the team. The statistics given above demonstrate quite clearly that the monumental triumphs that we generally attribute to skippers of the past are actually figments of our fantasy, in most cases propelled by our culture of deification.

There is a much easier and believable explanation of the rise and fall of Indian cricket fortunes overseas. From 2001 to the very recent times, India has been blessed with three batsmen who are magnificent run makers on fast and bouncy as well as slow and turning wickets. As long as Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman had been at their peak, the fortunes of Indian cricket had soared with the heady heights of their exploits. Now that the vintage has often been lowering guard to allow the world a peak at the advancing age, the defeats have come hurrying back. To me this is a much more logical explanation than the mystic, inscrutable powers which we tend to discover in captains, often in retrospect and through the lens of extremely malleable memory.

The above assertion can be demonstrated by considering four memorable wins of India over Australia in the past. At Eden Gardens, 2001, India had been following on and one key wicket away from innings defeat when VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid had rewritten history. At Adelaide, Indians had slumped to 85 for four in reply to 556 when the two maestros had decided to indulge in an encore of the miracle. At Mohali, 2010, with all over bar the Aussie celebrations, an injured VVS Laxman, with Ishant Sharma for company, had conjured up the unbelievable. And finally, in the next Test at Bangalore, coming in with the score at 38 for two while replying to 478, Sachin Tendulkar played an innings of 214 and followed it up with 53* in the second essay to win it emphatically. Each of these is an example of batting brilliance, a combination of gifted individuals who have brought bagful of victories, with little or nothing to do with the captaincy.

Now, with these three architects of dreams more often than not failing to click together, the success rate has gone awry.

This can be demonstrated with the following piece of statistic.

Captain

Average runs scored/Test by

Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman

together in won matches

Average runs scored/Test by

Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman

 together in lost matches

Sourav Ganguly

292.83

191.28

Rahul Dravid

262.08

108.87

MS Dhoni

253.02

200.6

The above table is eloquent in expressing how much the fortunes of Indian cricket have been influenced by the performance of the three middle order masters. When they have fired, MS Dhoni has won Tests in far and distant lands. When they have sputtered and stopped, matches have been lost.

With India about to undergo a major transformation in the next one year or so, with the Big 3 soon to make way for a younger lot, it is imperative that the man at the helm is persisted with, given all required support, and allowed to nurture and develop the young side, turning the talents into treasures.

The next few series at home will no doubt help the team in initiating the upheavals smoothly, spreading them out in phases, without feeling the full jolt of transitional shocks. And there is no better man to be in charge while the large gaps are gradually filled in – MS Dhoni, a wicketkeeper batsman of rare quality, a captain of choicest credentials, a man to safeguard the present.

(Arunabha Sengupta is trained from Indian Statistical Institute as a Statistician. He works as a Process Consultant, but purifies the soul through writing and cricket, often mixing the two into a cleansing cocktail. The author of three novels, he currently resides in the incredibly beautiful, but sadly cricket-ignorant country, of Switzerland. You can know more about him from his author site, his cricket blogs and by following him on Twitter)

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