Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s continuance as Test captain is detrimental and untenable

MS Dhoni lacks the temperament and vision needed for a Test captain, and his instinctive leadership style, bulldozer approach, and stopgap solutions do the Test team more harm than good in the long run © PTI

‘Tinker Tailor’ is a counting-out game. Children use it to ‘count out’ or choose who shall be, for example, the seeker in a hide-and-seek game. It goes like this: the children stand in a huddle or a circle and the dominant child or the leader of the group starts counting, pointing at each in the huddle –
 
Tinker, Tailor,
Soldier, Sailor,
Rich man, Poor man,
Beggar man, Thief.
 
For each word in the rhyme, a person is pointed at, and the child who is pointed at when the last word ‘Thief’ is said, is ‘out’ or chosen to be the seeker in the game. There are many variations of this counting-out game, and each is used to randomly choose a player to carry out a task in the main game.
 
Seeing the way India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni rotates his bowlers in Test matches, one cannot but feel sometimes that he starts counting in his mind “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor . . .” looking at each of his bowling options before throwing the ball to the bowler who ends up with the word ‘Thief.’
 
Sample this: In England’s first innings in the fourth and final Test match in Nagpur, Dhoni introduced off-break bowler Ravichandran Ashwin only in the 30th over. After his first spell of eight overs, Ashwin again got to bowl the 79th over of the innings, and after a mere four overs, was again taken off the attack. The next opportunity for Ashwin came in the 113th over of the innings, and in the 115th over, i.e. in the second over of his third spell, Ashwin claimed Prior’s wicket with a straight one and was pumped up, only to find himself replaced by Ishant Sharma for the 117th over. In effect, Ashwin’s first spell consisted of eight overs, second four, and third a depressing two overs — though one of them a wicket-taking one — in what appears to be Dhoni’s quirky gambit of diminishing overs.
 
What’s more, Ishant bowled two more overs (119th and 121st) and was again replaced by Ashwin, who went on to bowl three overs (123rd, 125th and 127th), to be replaced yet again by Ishant for just one over (129th) before lunch. After lunch, Dhoni merrily continued from where he had left: Ashwin replaced Ishant for one over (131st), was replaced by Ishant for two overs (133rd and 135th), and came inescapably back to bowl the 137th over, replacing Ishant. Mercifully, the English innings came to an end in the next few overs, saving Ashwin and Ishant from this ordeal of ‘Tinker, Tailor’ played out by their captain Dhoni.
 
If it was Harbhajan Singh who was at the receiving end of Dhoni’s odd experiments in ‘counting-out’ (in the only Test match in the series that he played, Harbhajan got to bowl only 23 overs to Ashwin’s 46.1 and Ojha’s 44), it was Ashwin’s turn to end up being under-bowled in the first innings of the fourth Test: In all, Ashwin got to bowl 24 sliced-up overs to Ojha’s 35 and debutant Ravindra Jadeja’s 37. Again, Dhoni opened India’s bowling attack with Aswin and Ojha in both innings of the second Test; with Zaheer and Ishant in the first innings, and Ashwin and Ojha in the second innings in the third Test; and with Ishant and Ojha in the first innings of the fourth Test.
 
While the idiosyncratic changes that Dhoni makes in the bowling may help upset — to a small extent — the rhythm of a settled batsman in a Test match, on the flip side, such changes are bound to deny his own bowlers a chance to strike the right line and length and even experiment their variations, which are crucial to their success as bowlers in the longer version of the game. After all, it is a known fact that bowlers, especially spinners, require long spells to hit their stride in Test matches.
 
Dhoni’s ‘Tinker Tailor’ choices and start-stop methods are best suited for shorter versions of the game like ODIs and T20s, where the element of surprise works and long spells are not possible due to bowling restrictions. That brings us to the question whether too much of T20s and ODIs have made Dhoni ill-suited to captain the team in Tests.
 
In the 43 Test matches (excluding the Nagpur Test) that he has captained Team India, Dhoni has won 20, lost 12, and drawn 10 — a winning percentage of 46.51— with about two-thirds of those wins coming at home venues. In contrast, Dhoni’s rate of success in the shorter versions is impressive. In the 127 ODIs he has captained the side so far, he has won 73 and lost 43, with a winning percentage of 62.60; and in his 37 T20s as captain, he has won 18 and lost 17, with a winning percentage of 51.38. Interestingly, his record as the captain of Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League is by far his best showing as captain. Dhoni has taken his team CSK to the finals in four seasons out of five, winning the trophy twice and finishing as runner-up twice. Under Dhoni’s captaincy, CSK reached the semi-finals in all five seasons.
 
Statistics apart, it is obvious that Dhoni lacks the temperament and vision needed for a Test captain, and his instinctive leadership style, bulldozer approach, and stopgap solutions do the Test team more harm than good in the long run. Exactly why the Board of Control for Cricket in India (read N Srinivasan, the BCCI chief) should allow the selectors to choose and groom a new candidate to lead the Test side, while letting Dhoni lead in the shorter versions. Such split captaincy makes a lot of sense in the Indian context, given the amount of cricket that the BCCI’s contracted players, especially those in Grade A and B lists, play in a calendar year.
 
Also, it is clear from ex-selector Mohinder Amarnath’s revelation that the national selection committee had on an earlier occasion unanimously decided that Dhoni needed to be relieved of his Test captaincy. And if Dhoni managed to stay on as Test captain, it was primarily due to the intervention — it now transpires — of BCCI chief Srinivasan who, as the owner of CSK team in IPL, has vested interest in retaining Dhoni as the national captain in all formats.
 
While Srinivasan, as the board president, may be — as per the constitution of the BCCI — entitled to veto the selection/dropping of a player, Dhoni’s continuance as the Test captain has been made untenable by Amarnath’s exposé. In other words, Dhoni is living on Board president’s munificence, which is not only indefensible but also unethical, and is an insult to the very spirit of the gentleman’s game. Hence it is also incumbent on Dhoni to do some soul-searching and decide whether he really wants to continue as captain and be at the mercy of his employer.

(Venkatesan Iyengar was a speedster who could swing the ball both ways. He captained his school team at the zonal and district levels. His boyhood dream was to open the bowling for Team India in the august company of his idol Kapil Dev. Even today the sight of Kapil makes him nostalgic)