A loss in the Nagpur Test will raise the demands for removal of MS Dhoni as captain to deafening levels. But is there a successor? Arunabha Sengupta examines whether all the brickbats thrown at the Indian captain are justified.
With defeats chasing India across England and Australia, and the last stages of the pursuit leading into their own backyard, the demand is for sweeping changes.
The losses have hurt national pride – especially the tame surrenders on home territory, on the same turf they have formerly ruled with swagger, where they have remained undefeated since 2004.
And when the disappointed voices of millions echo across the length and breadth of the nation, when public outcry rings out loud and clear, perhaps the only known remedy in the world is age-old and time-tested – perfected by the French during their famed revolution. Heads should roll.
The emotional upheaval of the cricketing fraternity can be soothed only by rolling heads – big and important ones.If India loses at Nagpur, several serious apexes are sure to come down crashing, victims of the cruel axe.
Zaheer Khan has already been shown the door – a fact that did not quite register in a big way on the batting-obsessed Indian cricketing consciousness. But, there are several other heavyweights queued up near the selectorial guillotine. The biggest among them is the man almost everyone believes does not deserve a place in the team based on performance – captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
It is not only the casual critics; even ex-Test cricketers have joined in the chorus, voicing that Dhoni has done little to merit a regular place in the side.The likelihood is that another defeat will soon see the selectorial thought process buckling underthe enormous public pressure.
If not Dhoni, who?
However, what the several voices have not provided is an alternative. If not Dhoni, who?
Gautam Gambhir, one of the names suggested eloquently during the course of last year, has had less to show for his efforts with the bat than the Indian captain. If the assertion that Dhoni does not merit a place in the team is indeed found to be true after stripping it of the passionate frenzy of the moment, Gambhir as a specialist batsman should be scampering away from the eleven way before the captain hands over his crown and wanders into wilderness.
The other name is Virender Sehwag. Since the litany of losses started for India from the beginning of the English summer, Sehwag has scored at 0.13 runs more than Dhoni per innings. And if we take only this home season into consideration, in the five Tests, Sehwag has scored 381 runs at 42.33, while Dhoni has managed 275 at 39.28. Given that Sehwag is an opening batsman and Dhoni, according to most knowledgeable opinions, a glorified lower order biffer, if the captain does not merit a place because of his performance, Sehwag must be very near the sack himself.
This places us in a quandary. Is there a replacement?
And hang on … there is another thought which seems to emerge from the figures.
Numerous former cricketers – the latest in the list being Mohinder Amarnath – have stressed that Dhoni does not have the technique for Test match batting and his performances have done little to get him into the side. He is there by pulling his weight as a captain.
Let us look again, this time detaching ourselves from the perceptions and concentrating on the data.
The batting statistics of MS Dhoni look immensely respectable when compared to the established batsmen of the team. It is rare – nay, almost unique –in the history of Indian cricket for a wicket-keeper to achieve this.
His technique may give nightmares to the purist, but the criticism of his performance as a batsman is a
figment of agenda-driven imagination riding on the fury of the masses.
Indian batsmen since English tour
Indian batsmen in current season
The question remains – even if MS Dhoni is sacrificed to appease the national sentiments, adding the crown as a bonus along with the rolling head, whois the successor?
Virat Kohli with an average of 35.81 in his 13 Tests seems too raw in the longest version of the game to be launched against the Australians. Sehwag and Gambhir have not been very secure of their positions themselves. Yet, a loss will raise the public demands for a change at the top to deafening levels.
It will be interesting to see how Sandeep Patil and his men handle the situation.
(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)