Everyone, from young kids to old relics like me, love Mahendra Singh Dhoni. The Indian captain has a universal appeal. For the youth, it’s his swashbuckling, unconventional stroke play, his passion for high-end motorcycles... for the fairer sex, it was his long mane and Greek God body and for us old folk it’s his ability remain humble amid the shower of adulation.
When he chopped off his long hair - sadly for his female following - there would have been masses paying huge amounts on EBay for his hair! For mega corporations endorsed by Dhoni, he is as good as money in the bank. To put things in perspective, he is seen in some quarters of India as being more popular and marketable than the demi God Sachin Tendulkar!
For this section he is the face of Indian cricket as captain of the National team. No one doubts his immense value to the Indian team as a player, especially in the shorter forms of the game. But the question that has to be asked: Is he of value as captain in Tests?
The giant companies with vested interest in him would get heartburn at this suggestion. They have pumped enormous money in having him as their face of the company and they would like maximum exposure for that – especially television exposure. It has a direct bearing on the company’s bottom line. In a sense, Dhoni has become bigger than the Indian cricket team because, lately, one has heard disquieting murmurs since the home New Zealand Test series.
These murmurs about his tactics as a captain have only become louder. It has become a huge factor for all to see in the ongoing Test series, touted as the “Battle for Number 1” between South Africa and India. Dhoni’s bungling captaincy has greatly aided South Africa. The first, and probably the most critical, was his decision to bowl first in the third Test at Cape Town.
Granted, that it could have been a collective decision taken by the team’s brains trust, but ultimately Dhoni would have had the final say as captain. The decision showed no faith in India's famed batting and, to a large extent, neutralised one of India's biggest factors in the Durban victory - Harbhajan Singh. The off-spinner was made to bowl on an unreceptive first day pitch and then watch on the third day when a very average spinner in Paul Harris made the ball rear and spin on occasion like an angry cobra.
Just ask Gautam Gambhir! Poor Harbhajan must have thought why wasn't he given the chance to spin South Africa out on a worn fourth innings pitch with South Africa under pressure to the bat with the 'choker tags' swimming in their heads. Dhoni compounded his mistake of opting to field first by setting unimaginative, deep-set fields that gifted South Africa about 150 runs. Some would say I’m being overly harsh on Dhoni, but the fact is at top-level international sport there isn't much margin.
In this sense I don’t see Dhoni as the captain to sustain this fine Indian team’s place at the pinnacle of Test cricket. He should be replaced by a more tactical leader. Though, sadly, I think any attempt to make this happen will be stopped by corporates who have pumped in huge sums in Brand Dhoni and would like to see him as the man leading Indian cricket!
(Tim Holt was born in Northern Ireland in 1952. He found his love for cricket when he was sent to South Africa between 1964 and 1966. He is an unashamed cricket purist who feasts on Test cricket. His passion for the game cuts across geographical boundaries and into the domestic competitions. Tim, who has a background in journalism and teaching, has lived and worked in many places across the world)