MS Dhoni's retention as Test captain is critical to India's rebuilding process

Mahendra Singh Dhoni (above) has shown great responsibility and maturity in the past in leading a side comprising senior stars like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman. Now, he seems India’s best bet to take a young team to glory © Getty Images

While India prepare for the Australian series, it is important that somebody takes over the charge of rebuilding a new side. The selection panel under Sandeep Patil has taken some bold decisions, but the board under N Srinivasan is keen on fulfilling self-interests. With most of the seniors either retiring or looking out-of sorts, MS Dhoni seems to be the best man to do the job. Despite the poor record over the last two years, it is extremely crucial for the selectors to persist with Dhoni as the man at the helm in order to build a strong team for the future, believes Aayush Puthran.

Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s role as Test match captain has come under some serious scrutiny following India’s drubbing in the Test series in England and Australia and later at home against the English. The victory and his own performance in the recently-concluded ODI series somewhat moderated the anger.

His captaincy in the shorter formats, irrespective of the result, has been impressive. He has been attacking and innovative even when the chips were down, a typical Dhoni trait that seemed missing in the Test matches and for which he was highly criticised. As a result, there were calls of axing Dhoni as the captain, not just by the fans, but also the experts in the selection panel.

However, it is very crucial on more than one count that Dhoni is retained as the skipper for a longer run to help the selectors in the task of rebuilding a strong force after the retirement of the players who took Indian cricket to glorious heights.

A case of the best among worst

Despite India’s recent slump, Dhoni is still the best option available currently to lead the side. Virat Kohli, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Zaheer Khan and Cheteshwar Pujara were discussed as possible replacements, but they all come with some disadvantages to their credentials as captains.

While Kohli has led the Indian under-19 team to victory in 2008 and shown great character as a captain for various other sides, he has to learn to control himself on the field with a conduct of a gentleman. He is definitely one for the future, but he doesn’t seem to be responsible enough currently to build a young side. One would believe that a few more years as the deputy would prepare him well for the job.

Sehwag was discussed as a possible candidate to replace Dhoni by erstwhile selectors Krishnamachari Srikkanth, Mohinder Amarnath and team, but somehow the Delhi dasher doesn’t show any signs of being a good captain. He has led a side a few times in One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and Tests, but apart from his desire to become the captain of India, there seems to be no other reason to hand over the reins to him. He is as instinctive as any player can get on the field and doesn’t like to analyse the intricacies of the game.

Gautam Gambhir proved his credibility as a good captain when he led Kolkata Knight Riders to victory in IPL 5. Even his teammates vouched for his brilliant leadership. However, his form is a major cause for worry. His axing for the Australian series is enough indication that he needs to let his bat do the talking before he is burdened with further responsibility.

Zaheer Khan has mentored most of the upcoming fast-bowlers to have played for India in recent times, including Ishant Sharma. He has helped Dhoni immensely in setting the field, planning the bowling, etc. Yet, given his form and fitness, one doesn’t know how often he will be playing for India. He has a sharp mind, but his fitness remains a cause of concern.

Pujara has a calm temperament, but he hasn’t led a side too often in First-Class matches. When he did captain, he returned with below-average results.

A leader is by birth, not by design

There is no denying the fact that almost all the great leaders in not only the history of the game, but the entire human race had traits of leadership by birth, and life circumstances didn’t change them. As a result, even in cricket, some of the best players didn’t make for good captains. Dhoni has proved it beyond any doubt that the he is born to lead. And he has delivered results time and again over the last five years for every team that he has taken charge of.

He has been brilliant as a captain in the shorter formats. He has not only been instinctive, but also smart with his field placements and bowling changes. One has to give it to Dhoni that the kind of bowling and batting that was there at display in Australia and England, there was little he could do as a captain.

He took over the leadership when Anil Kumble retired in 2008, and since then he has led a side that was either ageing and on the verge of retirement or a young side that has been chopped and changed far too often. In such a scenario, he has managed a win-loss record of 20-12, by far the best by an Indian skipper.

He has shown great responsibility and maturity in the past in leading a side comprising  senior stars like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman. Now, he seems India’s best bet to take a young team to glory.

(While enjoying the small joys of life, rarely has anything mesmerised Aayush Puthran more than cricket. A student of Journalism in Mumbai, he is trying to figure out two things: ways to make Test cricket a commercial hot property and the best way to beat Mumbai traffic. He has a certain sense of obsession with novelty. He might seem confused, but he is just battling a thousand demons within his mind. Nonetheless, he is always up for a light-hearted chat over a few cups of coffee!)