Can MS Dhoni's self-promotion inspire an Indian fightback and save his career?

The Indian captain had promoted himself up the order, albeit by just one spot in a bid to parry his team through to stumps without further damage © PTI

The 32nd over of India’s first innings and effectively the 80th over of Day Two of the fourth and final Nagpur Test was in progression. Earlier in the day, England had fought back from a wobbling 199 for five to a respectable 330 all out on a pitch that begged to bore. The 131 runs added by the last five English wickets was due largely to debutant Joe Root (73) digging in along with keeper Matt Prior’s (57) usual defiance and Graeme Swann (56) deciding to showcase his all-round talent.

Seeing how England had fared on a pitch that was difficult to score, yet difficult to get out on once settled in, the Indian fans around the swanky new Vidarbha Cricket Association (VCA) Stadium were waiting for Virender Sehwag and Cheteshwar Pujara to milk runs off it. But Jimmy Anderson had other plans.

The England seamer swung the match back in the visitors’ favour as he smashed through the timber of Sehwag (0) on the third ball of the innings and Sachin Tendulkar’s (2) later for the third time in his career. The Nagpur crowd was now reminiscing the first Test match played at the new stadium when the aforementioned lookalike Indian superstars had trailblazed their way around the park against an Australia attack spearheaded by Brett Lee.

Anderson, meanwhile, wasn’t done. Cut back to over No 32 and his swing had found Gautam Gambhir’s (37) outside edge only to be pouched by Prior. India were tottering on 71 for four and what little hopes had sprung in the Indian fans after a decent first day’s play were slowly disappearing. Debutant Ravindra Jadeja was due in next with less than 10 overs to go and the Englishmen on the field and off it were rubbing their palms in anticipation of yet another Indian batting collapse.

However, to everyone’s surprise, out walks the skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni wearing his no-nonsense poker face. The Indian captain had promoted himself up the order, albeit by just one spot in a bid to parry his team through to stumps without further damage. And he managed to do just that.

It was a move that instilled an iota or two of confidence in the 31-year-old’s captaincy skills which have been attracting copious amounts of criticism of late. But here was someone who was willing to shoulder the responsibility and not expose a Test debutant to the menacing English swing and spin at the fag end of a hard day of at work. Can Dhoni go on to save India the blushes on Day Three and in turn save his career?

Interestingly, the last instance that comes to mind of Dhoni pushing himself up the order is the 2011 World Cup final in April last year. On that evening at the Wankhede, Dhoni had come in at No 5, ahead of the likes of Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina, with his team on 114 for three in the 22nd over and chasing 275.He had then embarked on match-winning partnerships with Gambhir and Yuvraj before launching Nuwan Kulasekara into the stands to give India their second World Cup title. Ironically, what seemed like the dawn of a new era in Indian cricket now appears to have been the start of the downhill curve in Dhoni’s captaincy graph. Under Dhoni, India lost 10 Test matches and won just five – four of which were against lower-ranked West Indies and New Zealand – till date and relinquished their world No 1 ranking.

“MS Dhoni: Hero to zero in 20 months” was the headline of an article in the Times of India on the eve of the Nagpur Test. Sumit Mukherjee wrote in that article, “With his team in a state of terminal decline, the trademark boyish smile on his face has been replaced by a scowl… The selectors’ faith in him is dwindling with every Test loss, and he is also fast losing respect of his players.”

What better a time for Dhoni to gain that respect back, from the selectors, his teammates and fans, alike. Twenty months ago, Dhoni had taken up the responsibility and inspired his team to a World Cup crown: after a rather mediocre tournament and after Sehwag and Tendulkar, both, had failed to deliver on the biggest stage. The situation hasn’t changed much, apart from the fact that India is going through a miserably lean patch in the longer format of the game. Dhoni has been all but ostracised for being too defensive in his captaincy. This Test match is being touted as Dhoni’s, if not others in the Indian team, acid test. Will he come out unscathed? There definitely isn’t a better platform to with India down 2-1 in a home series that was supposed to be a white…err…brownwash.

The crazy, optimistic Indian fan will bet his grandmother that he will and that Dhoni and his partner, Virat Kohli, will script a remarkable fightback on Day Three. This writer counts among them – while his poor grandmother prepares herself for the worst.

(JaideepVaidya is a multiple sports buff and Editorial Consultant at Cricket Country. He has a B.E. in Electronics Engineering, but that isn’t fooling anybody. He started writing on sports during his engineering course and fell in love with it. The best day of his life came on April 24, 1998, when he witnessed birthday boy Sachin Tendulkar pummel a Shane Warne-speared Aussie attack from the stands during the Sharjah Cup Final. A diehard Manchester United fan, you can follow him on Twitter @jaideepvaidya. He also writes a sports blog – The Mullygrubber )