MS Virat_final
The change of guards, from MS Dhoni to Virat Kohli has benefitted Indian cricket as it has initiated the upward curve process © Getty Images

India had won the World Cup 2011. MS Dhoni’s magic was the talking point. Less than two months later, he weaved the wand again to bag the IPL 4. And then, as skipper of the then ranked No. 1 Test side, his next assignment was the West Indies series. Full Cricket Scorecard: India vs West Indies, 4th Test at Port-of-Spain

When India conquered Kingston, it just seemed that ‘King Midas’ Dhoni can do no wrong. This was followed by a closely contested draw in Bridgetown and now much to the delight of Dominicans, Windsor Park at Roseau got the opportunity to host their maiden Test. The then No. 1 ranked Test side India were one up and hosts West Indies had a chance to level the series at this new venue. So far, it was a good contest. India had the upper hand, but Shivnarine Chanderpaul’s 23rd Test hundred neutralised the proceedings.

A capacity crowd (12,000) filled the stands to witness a gruelling final day’s play. The numero uno Test side needed 86 from 15 overs with 7 wickets in hand. The masters Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman were at the crease with the likes of Virat Kohli, Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh, a man who had scored two back-to-back Test hundreds in the previous season, still to come in. But Dhoni and his counterpart Darren Sammy decided to end the game at the first opportunity before the mandatory 15 overs begun.

While Dhoni did not have the confidence going for the chase, Sammy was a relieved man, as 0-1 looks better than 0-2. Seriously? An IPL generation, the rock-stars of the game, the No.1 Test side settling for a tame draw? The target was 180 from 47 overs. Again, it had come down to 86 from 15 overs with 7 wickets in hand!

How many skippers of a No. 1 side would have adopted a similar approach? No, Kohli, who was then playing his first Test series, would almost certainly not have.

If Dhoni thought the pillorying from the Indian media was the worst part, he soon found out that was not. Cricketing Gods knew such defensive mindset do not deserve the ‘No.1’ tag. Dhoni had to wait over three years to register his next overseas Test win. The seeds for the defensive approach that led to the 0-8 drubbing in England and Australia soon after were sown at Windsor Park. Also read: India-Pakistan Test series is the need of the hour; shame that the top 2 Test side don’t play

India lost the opportunity to exhibit a robust statement of intent ahead of the much tougher tours. The tag, the coveted Test mace left Dhoni’s grips. More than it being snatched, it was a case of not holding it firm enough.

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

India’s fortunes did not change in overseas conditions. The bunch of tigers at home was no more than tamed lambs when they stepped out of their jungle. Dhoni’s legacy as an unblemished leader took a serious hit.

During India’s 0-8 phase, a lot of murmurs against Dhoni’s defensive leadership were heard before Mark Waugh slammed his approach. Be it flying an unfit RP Singh over for a solitary Test in England or handing a Test cap to a gentle seamer Vinay Kumar at Perth, Dhoni did the unthinkable during this span.

During an interaction with Mark Waugh in January 2012, when India lost the third consecutive Test in Australia, the former Australian made a strong statement against Dhoni.

“Out of all Indian captains I have seen or played against, I would go to an extent saying that MS Dhoni has been the most disappointing. Indian skippers have always been defensive especially when compared to their Australian counterparts, but still they haven’t been looked as rudderless as Dhoni,” said Waugh.

Dhoni had managed to whitewash Australia 4-0 in 2012-13, and dominated most contests at home. In 2013-14, during the second Test against South Africa at Cape Town, Dhoni, not happy with his new-ball bowlers, did not go for the new ball until he was forced to after 146 overs! The seam of the old ball had split, and according to the game’s rules, a new ball has to be taken if the old one has to be changed after 110 overs. The South African batters comfortably strolled away with a win. Also read: Rangana Herath: The wizard who works in a bank

A few months later in New Zealand, India were eyeing an innings victory in Wellington when Kiwi skipper Brendon McCullum went on to defy limits and became the first New Zealand cricketer to register a triple-hundred. Sniffing a win to a series defeat, Dhoni adopted a wait-and-watch technique when things seem to run away from India overseas. Of course, Baz was brilliant, but this was not a solitary instance.

Even in Trent Bridge in 2014, India could have declared and made a statement even as a draw loomed over. At least the Indian think-tank could have adopted a ploy to play for the audience, and could have set England a target of 250 in 45 overs.

But not everyone is a Steve Waugh (I now know from where his twin Mark is coming from) or a Stephen Fleming. Thanks to their leadership, the rain-marred Brisbane Test of 2001-02 between Australia and New Zealand was a thrilling affair. New Zealand, chasing 284 from 57 overs, ended at 274 for 6. A draw was a fair result, and the fans got their worth.

Dhoni’s curious approach to leadership in overseas conditions baffled all. The baton has now shifted to Kohli, who surprisingly subscribes to a complete different thought process.

The compass draws full

Back to West Indies, five years later. A 22-year-old, who was playing his first Test series four years ago, is now shepherding the national side. West Indies have been weakened from what they were in 2011.

Two Tests passed by. There was a chance to up the averages. There was an opportunity for Rohit Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja to score and book permanent berths, an ideal chance for the captain to hike his average in proximity to his competitors Steven Smith, Kane Williamson and Joe Roots. Wriddhiman Saha can go for another big one and Ravichandran Ashwin can imprint more batting records in the book.

No, the diktat is: Go out, score brisk, as brisk as possible, set a big total and bowl out West Indies.

No one is surprised. In the first-ever Test that Kohli led, he made his intent clear. He went in with rookie leg-spinner Karn Sharma as Australia had a right-hander dominated batting line-up. The emotionally charged Test at Adelaide post Phil Hughes’ death in December 2014 saw Australia set 364 on the final day.

Kohli followed up his first-innings 115 with 141. The young man who had seen his team meekly surrender at Dominica three years back, decided to go for a win. Trying to win, India fell short by 48 runs. Another away Test lost but criticism made way for applause.

Back to West Indies. India ticked all the boxes. They won the third Test at St Lucia. Pakistan beat England at The Oval to square the series 2-2, while Sri Lanka effect a 3-0 whitewash over the till then ranked Australia. The No. 1 crown came back to India.

Though it is too early to compare Dhoni’s tactical acumen with Kohli’s, but the latter is a thinking man who will try out everything to win, an aggressive leader who does not mind to risk defeats in order to win.

The fresh approach has benefitted India, who managed to clinch the supreme crown from the very isles where the slide seemingly begun.

India will rue sanity more than luck

India’s good show under Kohli has brought back the lost smiles on Indian Test cricket fans. India had to win the fourth Test to retain the No. 1 crown. West Indies were never going to challenge the march and neither did the rain gods but sanity did. Also read: The Wriddhiman Saha approach to short balls

Super soppers, a quality drainage system and full-ground covers are basics that should be a part of every Test venue’s kitty. Test cricket cannot afford to miss out on action especially at times when its future is under scanner.

Let alone Tests, cricket in general cannot afford this. Despite no rains in Port of Spain, the final Test saw all days washed out due to wet outfield. It went on to be the fifth shortest Test. Thanks to the infrastructure, no life could be pumped in the dead Test which had India’s No.1 title at stake. The mace has shifted to Pakistan.

Never mind even if it slipped. Kohli and his men have started the upward curve process, and even if the title is lost, will be back in a matter of time.

(Suvajit Mustafi consumes cricket for lunch, fiction for dinner and munches numerous other snacks throughout the day. Yes, a jack of several trades, all Suvajit dreamt of was being India’s World Cup winning skipper but ended up being a sports writer, author, screenwriter, director, copywriter, graphic designer, sports marketer , strategist, entrepreneur,  philosopher and traveller. Donning so many hats, it’s cricket which gives him the ultimate high and where he finds solace. He can be followed at @RibsGully and rivu7)