By Dileep V
His Midas touch seems to have evaded him and his luck seems to have deserted him. What earlier were once his masterstrokes are now turning into disastrous moves. From a captain who turned anything he touched into gold to a leader struggling to win a single game, life has come a full circle for Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Chennai Super Kings’ (CSK) loss against Trinidad & Tobago meant Dhoni has won only one competitive game since July. In the 14 matches since the start of England tour, Dhoni has lost 11, tied one with one game producing no result. Just months earlier, Dhoni had successfully shepherded India and CSK to World Cup and IPL title triumphs. From the peak of the World Cup triumph to the precipitous plunge in the valley of defeats in England and the Champions Trophy T20, Dhoni has touched a new low – as a captain and even as a batsman.
Dhoni’s turn for the worse, in fact, started with the third Test against West Indies at Windsor Park, Dominica. Going into the last two sessions of the Test, India were required to chase down 180 runs in 47 overs, at a rate of slightly less than four an over. Not an improbable job, especially considering that India were the No.1 Test team in the world and were recently crowned the World champions in ODIs and were leading the series 1-0 against a severely- depleted West Indies. What happened outraged the entire cricketing community, India had crawled to 94 for three in 32 overs and required 86 from 15 overs with in-form Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman at crease and the likes of Virat Kohli and Dhoni himself to follow. Instead of going for the win and showing the necessary killer instinct of a champion side, Dhoni ended the game at the first opportunity just before the mandatory 15 overs began! Had India gone for victory and won the Test to win the series 2-0, the team would have landed in England on a more positive and confident note. But that shockingly defensive decision by Dhoni not just cost the Test but straightaway gave England an upperhand even before the first ball was bowled in their series against India.
Dhoni’s defensive and fearful mindset was evident in the first two Tests of the England tour as well when he won the toss and inserted England. Probably the green top at both Lord’s and Trent Bridge forced him to take the decisions, but did we have the necessary weapons to exploit the conditions? The answer is an emphatic no. We had only one top class bowler in Zaheer Khan and he was coming back from a long lay-off, Ishant Sharma was inconsistent, Praveen Kumar was making his debut and Harbhajan Singh has been non-performer for a long time. The age old mantra in Tests is to win the toss and bat, which means not batting when the wicket has deteriorated to the worst on the last day. The results were two heavy defeats – one by 196 runs and the other by 319. The next two Tests were lost by an innings resulting in a complete whitewash of the series.
Dhoni was under fire from all quarters. His bowling changes were hardly inspiring and his technique against the moving ball made him look like a club-level cricketer. His sloppy wicket-keeping led to many questioning his cricketing acumen. The team failed to show the intent to fight in a series of such magnitude and, worse, many were not bothered about the falling pride of Team India.
Dhoni’s stubbornness in picking certain players is well documented - be it Ravindra Jadeja in 2010 T20 World Cup, Piyush Chawla in the 2011 ODI World cup or Joginder Sharma for Chennai Super Kings (CSK) in IPL. But when he was winning everything, he got away with his whims and fancies. But as defeats piled on, there was no escaping censure. His sustained support for the non-performing Harbhajan hurt the team big time. Even after Harbhajan got injured, Dhoni preferred to chose the leggie Amit Mishra instead of the in-form Pragyan Ojha, who was performing brilliantly in English county cricket and making the Englishmen wonder why he was ignored by India.
With a depleted side and dwindling confidence, India failed to win any of the limited-overs match, only coming close in fourth ODI at Lord’s – where they managed to tie the match. The series ended with India failing to win even a single match.
That the owner of the CSK franchise was the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) made it difficult for Dhoni to take rest from a punishing schedule. CSK didn’t look like defending champions playing in their own turf and managed only one win out of four and failed to make it to the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy T20 tournament.
His batting in Tests has anything but been below average. In the three Tests in West Indies he scored 97 runs at an average of 19.40 and four Tests in England produced 220 runs at 31.42
The ODI series in England gave him a chance to flash his blade and notched up 236 runs with three fifties including the man of the series award. If one thought that the ODI form will rub onto CLT20, they were mistaken. Four matches for CSK produced only 46 runs. including a painstaking 22-ball seven against T&T, at 15.33 per match and strike rate of less than 83. What was worse was that he only got only three boundaries to his credit! The master of T20 was out of sorts both in batting and his captaincy. His usually reliable instincts were going against him and the results were for all to see.
Is Dhoni’s luck finally running out? The home series against England and the West Indies will give a clearer picture.
(Dileep.V is a Scouser fan, Sports freak, Movie buff, Laggard Quizzer and dreams of setting foot on Anfield one day)