By Ritwik Mallik
The Indian team suffered its ninth defeat in the last 10 Tests that it has played overseas. And in the spotlight today, is Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni. While the man with the ‘Midas touch’ has done a lot for Indian cricket, it is high time someone questioned his utility in the Indian line-up as a batsman on overseas tours.
In the Adelaide Test of 2012, the diminutive Wriddhiman Saha came in the side after Dhoni was given a one-match suspension for his team’s slow over-rates. Saha took guard with the score read 111 for five. At the other end was Virat Kohli, whose place in the line-up was under threat till he produced a gem at Perth.
What India saw for the next two hours or so was unbelievable. The supremely-talented yet crazily underrated Saha went about negating the Australian pace attack with grit. He got behind the line of the ball, each time the ball swung and never looked uncomfortable against the steep bounce. Here was a player who was touted the best wicket-keeper in the country, playing just his second Test. Saha showed copious resilience out in the middle, till an inside edge brought about his end. But most importantly, he hung around with Kohli for 114 runs. While Saha’s innings of 35 is largely forgotten, none can forget Kohli’s 116 that day.
Saha hasn’t played a Test ever since. And like his state mate Manoj Tiwary, is perennially benched. What’s most unfortunate here is that unlike Tiwary, Saha’s direct competition for a spot in his Indian Premier League (IPL) team and the Indian cricket team is with his captain Dhoni. Now that Indian cricket is at its crossroads, it would be interesting to ask Dhoni how long he intends to play the longer format of the game as a wicket-keeper batsman. Considering his tremendous workload and a dodgy back, Dhoni would be tempted to play just as a batsman. But does he even merit a place in the team playing overseas, as a wicket-keeper batsman or is it his captaincy that is saving him?
If one looks into some numbers, since India’s tour to South Africa in late 2010, Dhoni has played 15 Tests overseas, and he has captained India in each of those Tests. In those 15 games, he has some pretty ordinary numbers, as a batsman and as a skipper. As a captain, he has managed to win only two games, out of which, one was against a below-average West Indies in 2011. And as a batsman, he has managed to score just 685 runs with a rather ordinary average of 26. There’ve been just five half centuries and not a single hundred. He scored ducks in three innings.
If we delve a little deeper, we’ll observe that his average hasn’t been able to cross 24 in the last three calendar years and is topped by a rather disappointing tour to South Africa in 2013 where he managed just 87 runs in four innings. In these 28 innings, he has fallen to pace, 23 times — one fifth of those dismissals being caught behind. If memory serves me right, what has plagued Dhoni the most in overseas conditions is the movement and the pace at which the deliveries come off the wicket. As a batsman who has been brought up on dead Indian tracks and as someone who plays with negligible feet movement, Dhoni has been a sitting duck, every time the ball has been pitched outside the off or made to swing outwards from the off stump. He has jabbed, prodded and what not , only to see the ball being latched onto by the fielders standing behind him.
Revolutionised by Adam Gilchrist, the No 7 batting position is very important for every Test team. It acts as the intermediary between the batsmen and the tail-enders and hence, requires somebody with the ability to occupy the crease for long durations and the penchant for taking singles. In both these regards, Dhoni has failed in the last three years or so, and it’s important for the Indian team management to pay heed to the numbers. In the hostile conditions of Australia, England and South Africa, it is important that the captain plays his part in order to make sure that the team plays well. If the captain in question doesn’t really merit a place in the playing eleven, youngsters or no youngsters, it doesn’t bode well for Indian cricket.
(Ritwik Mallik, 20, has three widely popular novels to his credit. When not busy writing, he enjoys reading biographies, autobiographies and other non-fiction. A movie buff and a cricket addict, he occasionally debates and enjoys public speaking. He is currently pursuing his under-graduate studies at the University of Delhi and is the founder of an online magazine. His Twitter handle is@ritwik93)
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