MS Dhoni led India to the Semi-Final of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 © Getty Images
MS Dhoni led India to the Semi-Final of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 © Getty Images

On July 7, 2015, MS Dhoni celebrates his 34th birthday three days after his fifth marriage anniversary. With a lot won and lost over the past year, Sudatta Mukherjee writes about the road that lies ahead for the Indian skipper.

The last twelve months have not been one that MS Dhoni will like to remember going forward. Days after his 33th birthday India travelled to England for the Pataudi Trophy. What happened next still lurks in the memory of the Indian cricket fan. India lost the Test series 1-3. However, they got back and won the One-Day Internationals (ODIs) 3-1. The one-off Twenty20 International (T20I) was lost. Amidst all this, Dhoni emerged the second most run-scorer from India in the Test series.

A month later, Dhoni led India against West Indies at home, a series marred by ‘West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) vs players’ controversy after India had taken lead in the ODIs. They then travelled Down Under for a three-month long tour — one that included the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, the Carlton Mid Series and ICC Cricket World Cup 2015.

Dhoni missed the first Test, and surprised everyone by retiring from Test cricket after the third. India performed abysmally in the Carlton Mid Series and could not make it to the final. However, Dhoni led India to a not-so-disappointing World Cup: India reached semi-finals before losing to Australia. Just when it seemed things were back to normal, Dhoni’s miserable year as captain continued: India succumbed to the rejuvenated powers of the new Bangladesh.

The next seven months will be crucial for India’s most successful skipper. Even though Dhoni may have retired from Tests, he has to get back to winning ways in limited-overs cricket, in which he was once unbeatable. India travel to Sri Lanka in August for three Tests, which Dhoni won’t be part of. He will have enough time to get his jig back by the time South Africa travels to India for four Tests, five ODIs and three T20Is. This is where Dhoni’s power will be tested. Does he still have the mojo? Or is it time for him to call it a day? ALSO READ: Can Test retirement bring back the aggressive version of Dhoni?

Dhoni need to perform and lead the team from the front, especially against South Africa, before they play Pakistan (which may or may not happen, as the two countries continue to discuss their long bilateral problems). India’s performance against South Africa will be of utmost importance, for ICC World T20 2016 will be held in India. If India play Pakistan in December or January, it is possible that the team may have to travel to UAE to face their neighbours. Conditions will be different in UAE and won’t help Dhoni prepare himself or the team for the trophy with which he started his winning ways — the World T20 title.

Dhoni had led India to the World T20 title in 2007, but has failed to win it back four times. If it is indeed Dhoni’s final World T20 appearance, he needs make the most out of it, especially with it being played in India.

The last time India played South Africa in the Indian subcontinent was in World Cup 2011. India lost the match. Four years have passed since then. South Africa look disciplined as they fight it out in Bangladesh, preparing themselves for the bigger series and getting accustomed to the weather. Most South African players are used to Indian climate and due to Indian Premier League (IPL) most of them are well used to T20 cricket in the subcontinent. Dhoni’s aim will be to tackle all this and prepare his side for the coming months in the lead-up to the ICC World T20 2016.

(Sudatta Mukherjee is a reporter with CricketCountry. Other than writing on cricket, she spends penning random thoughts on her blog. When she is not writing, you will catch her at a movie theatre or watching some English televison show on her laptop. Her Twitter handle is @blackrosegal)