Two months ago, Mohinder Amaranth had been a disgruntled ex-selector. And, to paraphrase PG Wodehouse, “the days that have followed have done little to gruntle him.”
After India had lost at Kolkata to fall 1-2 behind England, the former middle-order batsman had called for the head of MS Dhoni in no uncertain terms. According to him, there were better wicketkeeper batsmen in the country and the Indian captain was keeping them out of the side.
It had also been widely reported, and subsequently acknowledged by Amarnath, that he had been in favour of replacing Dhoni at the helm with Virender Sehwag.
After the Eden defeat, an angry Amarnath had stated: “He has been captaining the team for the last one year because India won the World Cup. We are talking about One-Day cricket here and not Test cricket.” The underlining argument was that Dhoni has not done enough to justify his place in the Test side.
I quote him specifically to make the point that Amarnath was not talking about the quality of Dhoni’s captaincy, but his performance in Test cricket.
Since then, India has played two Test matches — a draw versus England at Nagpur and a resounding win against Australia at Chennai.
Dhoni has batted in two innings and scored 99 and 224 — the first a resolute effort on a difficult pitch, made over six hours; and the second an epic match-winning effort that will go down in history as one of the finest ever. In all he has batted 763 minutes to pile up 323 runs — quite a feat for someone who does not deserve a place in the side.
Sehwag, on the other hand, has batted three times since then, scoring 0, 2 and 19 — in all spending 67 minutes at the wicket. It makes little sense to compare averages for these few innings, but one can amuse oneself by looking at the contrast between Dhoni’s 161.50 and Sehwag’s 7.00.
Yet, one must remind oneself that hindsight is of little use in the decision making process. A lot of the experts who had trashed Dhoni’s batting ability must be burrowing holes to conceal flaming red faces till the echoes of his thundering strokes are silenced by the combination of time and public memory. But, to be fair, all these people had to take a call based on the evidence available to them at that moment — just after the Eden Test.
So, let us take an unbiased look at Amarnath’s claims when they had been aired. Were they justified? Or did they smack of prejudice?
A look at the numbers
The beauty of cricket is that it leaves a trail of numbers — all readily available for verification of proclamations.
According to Amarnath, Dhoni was supposedly resting on his World Cup-winning laurels.
Let us not tarry here with the uncharitable observation that most of the newspaper articles carrying his comments introduced him as hero of the semi-final and final of the 1983 edition, 29 years after the triumph.
After all, Amarnath is the perfect person to know the dangers of dwelling in past success. His string of scores in Test matches in the season following the1983 World Cup went — 4, 7, 0, 0, 1, 0, 0, 0. So, it may be that he was bringing his experience to count, and worrying about Dhoni and the future of Indian cricket.
Let us look objectively at the performances that led Amarnath to make his observation.
From the day Dhoni struck that six over long-on to lift the World Cup, till the end of the Eden Gardens Test, India had played 19 Tests. The batting figures of Dhoni and Sehwag in those Tests are given below. To maintain objectivity, let us remember that Dhoni has the additional duty of the wicketkeeper. Sehwag is in the team purely as a batsman.
Dhoni and Sehwag from the World Cup till Amarnath’s outburst (December 11, 2012)
So Dhoni, a ’keeper, with an average of 30.67 does not deserve a place in the side. On the other hand, Sehwag, an opening batsman who scored at 2.6 runs more per innings, is enough of a certainty to take on the mantle of leadership. It does seem to be a pretty curious conclusion.
We will give Amarnath the benefit of the doubt and assume he had done a more thorough job. Maybe he did what would be expected in a well-conducted analysis, comparing and contrasting under exactly same conditions.
The table below gives the figures of the two men in the 13 Tests since the World Cup they had played together till the Eden defeat.
Tests played together by Dhoni and Sehwag from the World Cup 2011 till Amarnath’s outburst (December 11, 2012)
We find that under exactly similar conditions, Dhoni — a wicketkeeper who supposedly does not deserve a place in the side — has a much better average than Sehwag, an opener who is supposedly good enough to lead India.
Well, something does seem to be glaringly wrong.
Now, was it an error of perception or just egged by prejudice? Vitriol or drivel?
Or was Amarnath’s hunches influenced by a former Indian captain who had voiced exactly the same sentiments in early 2012? That person even recommended Gautam Gambhir, a man who has underperformed his way to wilderness.
The inference that one can draw from these figures is quite alarming. Amarnath was an important member of the selection committee before his controversial exit. What these numbers do show is that often selectors too go by perception or prejudice and not by actual performance. As it happens to anyone sacked by a big establishment in India, Amarnath was largely portrayed as a hero who was victimised for being blatantly honest. Well, based on the figures there are quite eloquent arguments for his ‘honesty’ being atrociously misguided.
If we do give him the final benefit of doubt, and assume that he jumped to the wrong conclusion but had the best interests of Indian cricket in his heart, there is indeed good news for him. The decision to persist with Dhoni seems to have been correct – at least as far as Sehwag as an alternative is concerned.
Here are the final standings of Dhoni and Sehwag after the World Cup 2011:
Dhoni and Sehwagsince the World Cup 2011
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)
First Published: February 27, 2013, 9:48 am