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Mohinder Amarnath’s demand for MS Dhoni’s head smacks of prejudice

MS Dhoni © Getty Images
One of Mohinder Amarnath’s criticism was that MS Dhoni (above) bats at No 7. But there have been many captains in the past who bat at the same position or lower than that. Even Adam Gilchrist batted at seven when he was called to lead the side © Getty Images

Plenty of voices are currently demanding a change at the helm of the Test team, some of them quite well reasoned. However, the arguments offered by Mohinder Amarnath for the sacking of MS Dhoni are almost comical in contrast. Arunabha Sengupta looks at each of the loopholes in the logic of the former Indian batsman.

 

Mohinder Amarnath: The man who was exiled from the Test team forever for calling the selectors “a bunch of jokers”.

 

Yes, he became a martyr, linked to his great father by the thread of unfairness meted out to them stretching across half a century of Indian cricket. Anti-establishmentarianism generally makes heroes out of men – and Amarnath was no exception, even if the exact words uttered were borrowed from the great Sunil Gavaskar.

 

Some 24 years later, Amarnath was sacked again, this time from the selection committee. History was not exactly repeated, but reflected on the other side of the selection panel. The reasons for his axing remained murky, but conflict with the Board of Control for Cricket in India was very much apparent.

 

He later went on record saying that he had been in favour of replacing MS Dhoni at the helm with Virender Sehwag.

After the defeat to England in the Kolkata Test in late 2012, an angry Amarnath spewed vitriol proclaiming: “He [Dhoni] has been captaining the team for the last one year because India won the World Cup. We are talking about One-Day cricket here and not Test cricket.” The underlying argument was that Dhoni has not done enough to justify his place in the Test side.

Like his own outburst against the selectors 22 years earlier, this was a rather thoughtless and ill-tempered flare-up with little weight of facts to back him up. It is quite fair to say that when the Australians visited India in 2012-13 the other selectors were vindicated in persisting with Dhoni.

Now, with the anti-Dhoni current surging through the nation after reversals in South Africa and New Zealand, the ex-Indian batsman has predictably come out to demand his head yet again. In a recent interview given to NDTV, Amarnath hardly bothered to conceal his blatant disapproval for the Indian captain.Fangs were bared and Dhoni’s name was snapped at repeatedly without restraint.

 

However, it seems that even after the rather farcical statements made after the Eden Test of 2012, Amarnath is not quite prepared to do his homework before speaking to the media. He seems to have made it his mission to keep the joker tag attached on the selector – even if long sacked from the committee.

There may be many justified reasons for replacing Dhoni, but the ones offered by Amarnath were quite ridiculous.

He started off by saying, “Dhoni is a defensive captain who allows opposition to make a comeback in the game. His record is good at home pitches only like any other Indian captain. There is nothing special about it.

Well, let us check the veracity of the statement. The following table shows the records of the Indian skippers at home.

As we can clearly see, Dhoni has led in far more wins than the others and heads the field by a huge margin with respect to the win-loss ratio. He is in fact more than 100% ahead of the next in the list. If this is nothing special then we need a new counting system.

Indian captains at home (Amarnath claims that Dhoni’s record at home is nothing exceptional)

Captain M W L D W/L
MS Dhoni

30

21

3

6

7.00

M Azharuddin

20

13

4

3

3.25

SC Ganguly

21

10

3

8

3.33

SM Gavaskar

29

7

2

20

3.50

MAK Pataudi

27

6

9

12

0.66

SR Tendulkar

12

4

3

5

1.33

BS Bedi

8

3

3

2

1.00

The next statement was, “We need aggressive captains like Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi to win matches abroad.”

Well, Pataudi’s captaincy deeds remain feats of folklore in Indian cricket – and, as the phrase indicates, full of myths and legends. Granted he was at the helm of a weaker team, but there was a decidedly stronger spin attack. His overseas record remains poorer than Dhoni’s and his only wins came in one solitary series against a weak New Zealand side. Whether Pataudi would have won abroad with the kind of side Dhoni is leading is open to conjecture but it is certainly not as axiomatic as Amarnath would like to portray and many, many casual Indian followers of the game would like to believe.

Overseas records of Dhoni and Pataudi (Amarnath claims Pataudi’s kind of aggressive captaincy would enable India win abroad)

Captain M W L D W/L
MS Dhoni

23

5

11

7

0.45

MAK Pataudi

13

3

10

0

0.30

The next few words were perhaps the most hilarious in the entire interview. “A captain has to lead from the front. Not a single Test captain in the world bats at number seven. What kind of example you are going to set.”

Well, Dhoni is a wicket-keeper batsman. It would be meaningless for him to walk in ahead of Ajinkya Rahane or Rohit Sharma, and at the same time unfair to the batsmen.

Besides, let us look at the statement: “Not a single Test captain in the world bats at number seven.” Every other captain in the world at the present moment is a specialist batsman except Mushfiqur Rahim and Darren Sammy. Rahim, another wicketkeeper-batsman, forms part of a much weaker Bangladesh batting line-up and even then has played several innings from number seven.

The other regular captain who is not a full time batsman is Sammy. He comes in at number eight.

Brendon McCullum played just one Test as wicketkeeper-captain, and has batted at number seven in both the innings of that match.

Before this the other regular wicket-keeper captain was Khaled Mashud and he also preferred the number seven slot. So did Moin Khan and Adam Gilchrist when called upon to lead their sides.

Among other regular captains of recent years, Daniel Vettori was used to number eight. We obviously ignore people like Anil Kumble and Courtney Walsh for their obviously limited batting skills, but we do come across other rather useful all-rounders in Wasim Akram, Heath Streak and Shaun Pollock. All preferred numbers seven or eight.

Finally, in earlier years, the captains who regularly came in at number seven or lower contain legendary names like  Imran Khan, Richie Benaud, the inspiring South African Jack Cheetham and Kapil Dev – the last named Amarnath’s own captain for a considerable period. Even Garry Sobers was not averse from coming down the order and guiding the lesser batsmen from number seven.

Captains coming in at number seven and lower for a considerable number of innings (Amarnath claims Dhoni’s batting at number seven sets a bad example)

Daniel Vettori Darren Sammy Moin Khan Adam Gilchrist
Shaun Pollock Wasim Akram Heath Streak Khaled Mashud
Imran Khan Richie Benaud Jack Cheetham Kapil Dev

So, picking on Dhoni’s position in the batting order as a reason for his axing seems extremely bizarre.It also makes one wonder how someone making such vacuous, unresearched assertions used to function as a selector. How well thought out had been his decisions for the panel?

Finally Amarnath mentioned, “I sincerely feel that this is high time to relieve him from Test captaincy and although he is a match winner in ODIs, they should look at an option in shorter format as well.”

Well, it hardly makes sense to repeat Dhoni’s credentials in ODIs. He is indeed very nearly the best in the world bothas batsman and captain. Even then, Amarnath could not restrain himself from voicing his demand for changes in the ODI format as well.It was strange to say the least, and sadly seemed to stem from a single-minded agenda which had very little to do with facts and figures.

As he claims, he may indeed feel it is high time to take all the decisions against Dhoni. But, how much of Amarnath’s feelings are genuinely sincere to the cause of Indian cricket is a very, very big – and perhaps rhetorical – question.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix

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