Team India has fallen flat on its face. And this time it does not have any excuses to save itself for the shame it brought upon the nation. After the 2011 World Cup victory, one would have felt this is the best team India has gotten together since the 2003 World Cup team, led by Sourav Ganguly. However, the last one-and-a-half year has proved otherwise.
Instead of pontificating after the 1-2 defeat at home against England, it makes eminent sense to trace the problem and remove it from the roots. The team failed collectively. But as a leader, Mahendra Singh Dhoni has failed miserably. It all started in the third and final Test at Dominica in the West Indies last year, when Dhoni decided to abandon India’s victory chase with just 86 runs needed from 15 overs. Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman were at the crease and in the pavilion were Virat Kohli and Dhoni himself among others. The sheen of being an aggressive leader took a huge beating.
Since then, the Indian team has plummeted to its lowest-ever depth. It was humiliated 0-4 in England, tested severely by West Indies in India, routed 0-4 in Australia, and now lost a home series England which popular opinion believed would be a clean sweep for the hosts. The tag of “tigers at home” has also been lost.
The image of the once cool Indian captain is gone. Dhoni looks tired and beaten, mentally and physically, looking lot older than his age with a generous sprinkling of salt between the pepper on his stubble and side burns. He has quite uncharacteristically argued with umpires which have come as a shock to many.
India needs a new captain like the young Cheteshwar Pujara or Virat Kohli. And it’s probably high time India adopts different captains for different formats, like South Africa, Australia and England.
Described as the “New Wall”, Pujara has the temperament to lead India and has indeed captained the India A team quite creditably in the West Indies. As a batsman he has been the only one in the just-concluded series to score more than 400 runs.
As CricketCountry’s correspondent Nishad Pai Vaidya had written, “Pujara is moving from strength to strength and has carried on from where he left off against New Zealand. What is impressive is his hunger; he has made a habit of converting starts into big ones. In this transition era, people often talk about Virat Kohli leading the charge. However, Pujara has presented hope that the post-Rahul Dravid phase wouldn’t be as tough as one expected.”
Pujara has the cool head that Dhoni was known for in his pomp.
Critics could say that he has played only nine Test matches compared to a Ganguly, who had played 64 Tests when he took over as captain. However, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, hailed as one of the finest captains in world cricket, had played only six Test matches when he took over as India captain in unfortunate circumstances.
Dhoni’s tricks while captaining have been decoded by opposition and luck has left him. He hasn’t found the same kind of support from team members that he once got and hasn’t done much to boost the team’s spirit. He has also retained players in the team who are unfit and hasn’t done much to pick deserving and in-form players waiting in the wings. It’s now an open secret that Dhoni’s extended tenure as captain against all odds is because of having a godfather within the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
One could argue that Kohli has not quite reined in his ugly show of aggression. But under the circumstances, he presents the best possible option to lead the team. He is young and hungry to win. The scene of him breaking down into tears after India failed in World Twenty20 Championship recently, shows that the young man doesn’t like losing. Dhoni, as captain, doesn’t portray a body language of wanting to win anymore. Even celebrated names in the television commentary box pointed out how the Indian team under him displayed a defeatist attitude.
Kohli, the young vice-captain, has led the India to victory win in the Under-19 World Cup. He has also led Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Indian Premier League. He has proven himself as worthy batsman who performs when India needs him and also as team-man.
Team India needs fresh blood — be it Tests, ODIs or T20s. And it has to begin at the top by replacing Dhoni, who is past his expiry date as captain. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a moulder of consensus.” May be Pujara or Kohli could do the justice.
Team India needs such a leader, who has pride in the team’s win and doesn’t hide behind excuses when the team loses. As Henry Kissinger said, “A leader does not deserve the name unless he is willing occasionally to stand alone.”
First Published: December 19, 2012, 11:14 am