Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s career got off to a rollicking start. After managing with makeshift wicket-keepers for a considerable amount of time, India finally unearthed a bloke who was not only good with the gloves, but a genuine force with the bat – one who instilled fear in the hearts of the opposition. He swiftly climbed the ladder of success and faced every challenge with alacrity. The rise of Dhoni has been meteoric with the 2011 World Cup triumph the pinnacle of his career. However, the calm captain has been tested greatly as his steady ship has ended stormy troubled waters.
The eight successive overseas losses is the lowest point in Indian cricket for a long time to come. Although the situation begged for core-level changes post the debacle, there was hardly any hullaballoo and the matter was soon forgotten, but not before Dhoni copping some of the worst criticisms. Is Dhoni to be squarely blamed for India’s downward spiral, notwithstanding the non-performance of some of the other senior players in the Indian side? The team’s decline is due to a number of reasons and players, and while Dhoni’s captaincy is certainly one of the issues, it is not the only factor.
There is little doubt that Dhoni’s tactics haven’t been successful, regardless of the format, since the last few months. His defensive approach in Tests received heavy flak from ex-cricketers, and former skipper Sourav Ganguly went to the extent of stating that Dhoni should hand over the reins in all formats to Virat Kohli. While such a move may look appealing in theory, the situation is certainly quite complex in reality. Whether young Kohli can shoulder such responsibility is debatable - at least for now. It’s not just Dhoni’s leadership, but all the players who once delivered during India’s golden phase too seem to have lost their mojo. Moreover, apart from Dhoni, it’s very unlikely that the other senior players will do justice to the role, considering each of their recent forms.
While Virender Sehwag is one man who is keen to lead India, he’s got bigger things to fret about currently, for if he fails to deliver during the upcoming series against England, voices already questioning his place in the side will gain in momentum. Since the tour of England last year, he has averaged 30.60 in Tests, and if his 219 against West Indies is discounted, he averages a mere 21.58 in the One-Day Internationals (ODIs). A more detailed analysis on the woes of Indian openers was jotted down by Arunabha Sengupta in his recent article.
Besides that, the Indian middle-order is still very unsettled. Apart from Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli, none look promising enough to cement their place in the side. While Yuvraj Singh could probably be the answer to that conundrum, there is still no permanent solution, and that doesn’t augur well considering the upcoming overseas tours on India’s calendar. So that’s one department that needs immediate addressing. Moreover, India’s bowling worries need no introduction; once Zaheer Khan rides into sunset, things will only take a turn for the worse. This is not to present a pessimistic view, but there isn’t much in the bowling vault to feel encouraged at the moment.
Considering all the above points, Kohli will have to tread on eggshells if he’s made the captain for Tests. However, asking him to lead in the T20 format wouldn’t be a bad move, since it could also somewhat reduce Dhoni’s pressures. Wicket-keeping and captaining a side simultaneously has certainly taken its toll on Dhoni, and it could augur well if he’s allowed a little breathing space. Keeping wickets is an arduous task. As some former cricketers rightly believe, it is the most specialised position in a cricket team. Javed Miandad kept wickets on a few occasions, and he stated that a day behind the stumps during a high-profile match took tremendous toll on a person’s body and mind. And Dhoni has been doing it for the last many years endlessly, so one can only imagine the kind of impact it must have had.
It’s imperative that Dhoni decides to concentrate on either keeping or leading in the limited-overs format of the game, but the fact remains that there is no better option than Dhoni to captain India in Tests for the next couple of years at least. Yes, there are a few flaws that need ironing, but nothing is beyond repair yet. To entrust Kohli with such enormous responsibility at this juncture could be a huge gamble. But the time is right for him to grow under the tutelage of Dhoni.
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)