MS Dhoni’s poor records are indefensible but his opinions regarding the performance of the team aren’t as comical as it is made out to be. Abhijit Banare explains why Dhoni’s claims of an improved team need not be looked down at.
One of the major challenges about discussing popular topics in India is to convincingly present an argument which blows against the wind. Right now, MS Dhoni and the successful captain is a passé, slamming the Indian captain is the hot topic going around. Anything and everything about Dhoni now seems uninteresting, monotonous or mechanical. While the numbers may indicate his failures to lead the team away from home, his statements regarding the team too aren’t going down well with the media. And the one in discussion among cricketing circles now is his claim that the team is improving in comparison to their losses in Australia and England. Before presenting a few thoughts below is the statement from Dhoni after the Test series loss to New Zealand.
“I’m someone who speaks more about the process rather than thinking just about the results. If you compare our performance, the last two series we played, after a long break, outside the subcontinent.
“We have been improving. If you compare those two series (8-0) with the last few we have played, there is plenty of improvement. That’s what it’s all about. You want to keep improving to a stage where you start converting those good situations into better starts and start capitalising on it.”
Comparing the 8-0 and the continuity of failures in South Africa and New Zealand is looking at two different eras of cricket under the same leadership. Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman who formed the core of middle-order batting then were perhaps past their prime. Barring Dravid’s performance in England, there wasn’t much to pick from. In Australia, while Virat Kohli made his mark, it was a fragmented performance put together. In the bowling department, Umesh Yadav was the only one who bowled well. India were just going through the motions for most part of the series.
In comparison, there are many interesting points to look at, from the series against South Africa and New Zealand (Ignoring the fact that a two-Test series is not sufficient to gauge the performance). Indians were expected to meekly surrender in the Tests against a World No 1 side and were expected to struggle even in New Zealand as well. However, Ajinkya Rahane gave enough confidence about his abilities in both matches and under challenging situations. Kohli has become India’s new Tendulkar when it comes to standing up to the challenge of facing best in the business and coming out on top as a true winner. A certain Shikhar Dhawan who was found wanting in the One-Day Internationals (ODIs) showed the ability to defy his instincts and play two fine innings in New Zealand.
These are knocks which show the mettle the players have in them to play well under pressure when touring away from home. Cheteshwar Pujara’s skills have never been in doubt. There were far more positives to pick up from the recently concluded Test series against South Africa and New Zealand then those debacles in Australia and England.
And if you look at the performance of pacers, they have squandered opportunities to close out the match, yet they are worthy of praise. Now, none expected Ishant Sharma to do well. In New Zealand, for once you felt like praising the pacer, Zaheer Khan still had the stamina to bowl 50 overs without walking off the field catching his hamstring, Mohammed Shami is a delight to watch. His consistency and his line-length were worth praising. Shami, since his successful debut at home, has done well in the two away series. Together, the pacers were still disciplined for most part of 202 overs they toiled against New Zealand. The fact that Dhoni’s field settings were bizarre didn’t help the bowlers one bit.
Improvement doesn’t imply that it should reflect in results. A confident 30 in an innings still gives more satisfaction to a batsman than a laboured half-century. If we look at New Zealand, the team was hardly taken seriously after a dismal Bangladesh tour. But none noticed the performance of BJ Watling and Corey Anderson who had scored a ton each. Trent Boult and Tim Southee were still taking wickets during the tour to Sri Lanka. Brendon McCullum was still working on his batting technique in the nets which reflected convincingly in the marathon innings. But the results will only be evident if these efforts are delivered as a team. They produced winning moments but failed to capitalise. Which probably Dhoni explains in: “You want to keep improving to a stage where you start converting those good situations into better starts and start capitalising on it.”
There’s not a shred of doubt that Dhoni, as a captain in Tests has looked out of sorts. Even in the ODIs he has been outsmarted by the opposition, but his ability to analyse and understand the team’s situation seems to be right. Yes, it is ironical, but true. There’s much to be optimistic about the future and it wouldn’t be ideal to write off India when they tour England later in July this year.
(Abhijit Banare is a reporter at CricketCountry. He is an avid quizzer and loves to analyse and dig out interesting facts which allows him to learn something new every day. Apart from cricket he also likes to keep a sharp eye on Indian politics, and can be followed on Twitter and blog)
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