There was a time when Mahendra Singh Dhoni could do no wrong. He was the man with the Midas touch. He took Indian cricket to dizzying heights – World T20 triumph, the No 1 stats in Test cricket and the coveted supremacy in the 50-over World Cup. From those vertiginous heights, India plumbed the kind of depths the cricket-crazy nation has not experienced in ages. Eight overseas defeats in a row, not just defeats but humiliations from which made the fans cringe in agony.
With every passing defeat, Dhoni leadership can under intense scrutiny – even his place in the Test team - and not without good reasons. Both as captain and keeper-batsman, he has not been able to justify his spot in the team. He scored 220 runs at an average of 31 in eight innings in England last year, and 102 runs at an average of 20 in six innings Down Under.
Truth is that India had failed together as a unit, but such returns from any captain are detrimental to the team.
Let us see what Dhoni has done on the field as captain as well - the fourth day of the Lord’s Test in 2011, as an example. With Zaheer Khan ruled out due to injury, Ishant Sharma led an unsettled attack in the morning session when England batted for the second time. Ishant got everything going his way - a peach to castle Jonathan Trott and a snorter to send the in-form Kevin Pietersen back to the pavilion. England, who took a 188-run lead, were reduced to 62 for five.
Common sense dictated that Dhoni stuck to the bowler who was on fire and making life miserable for the opposition. But, astonishingly, he took Ishant out of the attack soon after lunch and Matt Prior made capital to score a gritty 103 under pressure. The rest, as the cliché goes, is history.
The above incident was not just one poor decision in the context of the Test match. When extrapolated, it had major repercussions in that series. It was the first big test for India’s as the No 1 Test side when they landed in England. The loss had a domino effect. The series and the No. 1 ranking were lost. India repeated their abysmal performances Down Under as well.
India are the reigning 50-over World Cup champions, but in the 18 months Team since India has not reached the finals of major overs-limit tournaments. They have fallen short by varying extents in the series that have been played since - the Commonwealth Bank series in Australia, the Asia Cup and the T20 World Cup.
However, Dhoni’s tryst with the bat has been positive when he wears Team India’s blue jersey - or the Chennai Super Kings yellow jersey, for that matter. He stood out in the ODI series in India versus England, where he scored 212 runs without getting dismissed even once in the whole series!
The best solution to this dilemma could be to enforce the multiple captain policy - different captains for different formats. Most importantly, India needs a new Test captain. Someone, who can bring apply cerebral thinking in planning the moves and not resorting to the mindset of a gambler.
Gautam Gambhir, who led KKR to their maiden IPL title, could be a good candidate. He has the necessary acumen, work ethic and experience that a Test captain needs to have. If there is anything against him at this point of time, it’s his poor form which puts a question mark over his place in the playing eleven.
The multiple captain formula worked fine for Australia back when Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting used to take care of Tests and ODIs respectively. England now has three captains for three different formats, and have done reasonably well, notwithstanding the South African series.
Added to this is the taxing, bucket-load of cricket played by Indian players - spanning different formats, colours and continents. Hence, a change at this point would be welcome - for the players and the captain.
Dhoni no longer seems destiny’s favourite child, if the seemingly unabated losses – individual and team fortunes – are any indication. His thinking has become obdurate over the last few months and the brave gambler has lost the plot more often than not. He has obstinately stuck to his choices - be it that of the profligate Rohit Sharma during the Sri Lanka ODI series or Ravindra Jadeja during the IPL. The last named, by and large, had no clear-cut role to play for CSK.
The time is just perfect to bring in a change at the top – not just keeping the present in mind, but also the future.
(Madhav Krishnan is a student from Birla Institute of Technology & Science, Hyderabad, pursuing M.Sc, Chemistry, and B.E. in Mechanical Engineering)