If ever one wanted to know how fickle minded the Indian media can be, one doesn’t need to beyond the ongoing Border-Gavaskar Trophy between India and Australia. After a horrendous run of form over the past 18 months in Test match cricket, which included a rare series loss at home against England, MS Dhoni came into the present series under immense pressure. His captaincy and his place in the team as a wicketkeeper were both in question. A couple of emphatic wins against an inexperienced Australian side has turned the equations completely in his favour, with no less an authority on the game than the great Sunil Gavaskar suggesting Dhoni should continue as Team India captain till 2019.
A couple of months back, people said Dhoni had lost his sheen, he looked jaded and had become a defensive captain; the critics conveniently ignored the fact that the entire team was failing as a unit. The openers were not firing, the middle-order looked out of sorts and the bowling looked inept. Nothing seemed to be going right for Team India.
Just two wins and it all seems to be forgotten. Dhoni is now being portrayed in the media as an aggressive, pro-active captain. Some of those attributes might be true; the break he got might have helped his thought process, but didn’t anyone notice that he still keeps a deep point and long-off as soon as the Australians started attacking? Even when India was doing well, those were the tactics used by Dhoni — post fielders in the deep, strangle the opposition scoring rate and pile on the pressure. The reason why it is working again is the fact that the Indian batsmen are piling on the required big scores. Whether or not the Australian bowlers are good enough for Indian conditions, scoreboard pressure does matter, which was lacking for the past 18 months or so.
With the victory in the second Test, Dhoni has become the most successful Indian captain in Tests. Does it necessarily mean that he is also India’s greatest captain ever? Statistically yes, and especially the fact that Ganguly’s record is inflated by nine victories against the minnows — Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, Dhoni is miles ahead of any other Indian Test captain. Some say, that Dhoni inherited Ganguly’s team which helped him achieve all the success he had in his initial years. Another way to look at it is, Ganguly had a group of highly-talented individuals who were at the peak of their careers during his tenure. Either way, if Ganguly was the sort of character Indian cricket needed after the dark days of match-fixing, Dhoni has been the ideal leader which was required for the transition from the generation of superstars to the next set of upcoming cricketers.
It really isn’t the time to hype up Dhoni once again. Yes, his achievements have been stupendous and are a reason for a celebration. But there are further challenges ahead. The year ahead and 2014 will see India travelling to South Africa, New Zealand, England and Australia. How they perform there will be the real test. The selectors have shown they are willing to take hard decisions by dropping out-of-form senior members Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag. The year 2007 was when Dhoni became the captain of the ODI Team, senior members Dravid and Ganguly were left out after playing one series under Dhoni. Probably Dhoni didn’t feel they would last till 2011 World Cup or the selectors felt he would be more comfortable with younger players. What transpired after that was a golden period in Indian cricket. The Test team is now shorn of most of the older players who were part of India’s incredible downswing post the 2011 World Cup. The team now largely comprises of players who are not mentally scarred by the recent defeats overseas. That may well result in another glorious period for India.
(Rohit Ramachandran Poduval is a classical leg-spinner, writer and software engineer)
First Published: March 12, 2013, 12:08 pm