By Karthik Parimal
“Captaincy is just a position I hold. It's something I'll always look to do well till I am in the job. It's not something I want to hold on to or stick on to. If there's a better replacement, it's a very open thing. He can come in. If there is someone who can do a better job, then it's a place that should be given to him.” – Mahendra Singh Dhoni
It’s not even been a year since India won plenty of accolades by winning the coveted World Cup. But the fateful turn of events since last July has sent India into a never-ending downward spiral. It’s not just the rankings that have taken a hit, but a considerable degree of respect has been lost as well. This debacle was believed to have happened due to various reasons: India’s ageing stars, defensive tactics, an insipid approach etc… However, one man who drew a lot of flak from all quarters for the defeats was the man in charge of the side - Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
It is surprising how quickly a person’s achievements and contributions are forgotten during a bad phase. Not long ago, Dhoni was being compared to India’s most successful captain - Sourav Ganguly. Many believed that Dhoni had the skill and resources to better Ganguly’s achievements as a captain. Before the start of that nightmarish series against England, India had lost just three of the 27 Tests under Dhoni’s reign. Talks were also afloat in the cricket fraternity back then about how Indiais yet to lose a Test series under his leadership. Appallingly, the value Dhoni adds to this team as a leader has been forgotten and his captaincy has sadly come under scrutiny.
One primary reason why Dhoni’s lean patch and failure has been magnified and appears to be even worse is because of the success of his counterparts. During the tour of England, Andrew Strauss was excellent as a captain and also displayed tremendous form with the bat. In this recently-concluded series against Australia, Michael Clarke slammed a triple ton and a double ton, whereas Dhoni failed miserably with the bat yet again. In fact, the Indian team as a whole managed to score above 300 just once during the entire Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
As Kapil Dev rightly said, “You may draw comparisons as you wish to, but a captain can't be judged by statistics. Dhoni has backed his players and handled pressures well in the past. He is under immense pressure now and needs to be supported.”
Agreed, Dhoni hasn’t been a proactive captain during the last two overseas tours, but that shouldn’t overshadow the fact that he has been an exceptional leader in the past and is capable of achieving the same in the future. After all, everyone goes through a lean patch in their careers at some point or the other. Dhoni is known to be a responsible captain and was the first to take the blame for the back-to-back debacles. “I am the leader of the side, I am the main culprit,” he said.
Indian cricket has reached its lowest ebb. It’s important that the root cause of the problem is addressed rather than making superficial changes and hoping for a good show in the future series. Youngsters need to be infused and given a longer run so that they get acclimatised to the rigours of Test cricket. If the head honchos feel that the lower level of hierarchy in the Indian cricket needs a revamp, they need to focus on doing that. Shuffling of captaincy after every debacle is not the solution to India’s woes. There are deeper issues to be addressed if India is to attain supremacy in Test cricket again. After all, a captain is as good as his team.
Moreover, if a leader’s position comes under scrutiny after every debacle, it is likely to create a sense of insecurity. In some cases it may ensure that the captain always remains on his toes. There is also a high possibility that he could buckle under that pressure. In Dhoni’s case, it is too premature to dismiss him as a captain at this stage. He is a very able leader and is capable of steering the team and himself out of troubled waters.
Dhoni has proved his credentials as a captain. His long list of accomplishments and trophies are a testimony to the fact that he has been an excellent captain. He led an inexperienced side to triumph in the game’s abridged version before helping India scale the pinnacle of Test cricket with an experienced side that consisted of former captains and stalwarts. Of course, he had good players at his disposal back then and they made it less strenuous for him. But there were times when Dhoni had to manage without the experience of some key players; and he did manage it well.
Agreed, a 0-8 result overseas is unpardonable considering how spineless the Indian team’s performance was in all eight games. However, it would be unfair to target just one person for the entire catastrophe. The fact that India lost the Adelaide Test with a new captain suggests that the problems are elsewhere.
It had been a smooth sailing for Dhoni till after the World Cup, but the real test of his mettle lies ahead. He has proved that he can handle success well, but it remains to be seen how he handles this pressure that comes with mounting failures.
It could augur well for Indian cricket if Dhoni’s cool demeanour can help the team get back to winning ways, thereby silencing the critics. However, being the skipper, Dhoni must realise that he holds a little more power and is capable of turning things around. If he can step up his game, become a little more responsible and lead by example on the field, it could possibly make a world of a difference to the entire team’s approach.
(If cricket is a religion and has many devotees, Karthik Parimal would be a primary worshipper. This 23 year old graduate student, pursuing his Masters in Engineering, could be an appropriate example of how the layers of what inspires, motivates and keeps one happy run deeply in our daily lives. He, unlike others, is not too disappointed about not making it big by playing for the country, but believes that he plays the sport every day with his heart by watching and writing on it)