Another heady challenge for leader Dhoni
Skipper will need to groom youngsters
Life has gone swimmingly for Mahendra Singh Dhoni since that exceptionally successful home series against Australia early this year.
Dhoni led India’s victorious campaign in the Champions Trophy in England, and played a match-winning knock in the triangular series final in the West Indies after missing a major portion of that tournament due to injury. Now, those disastrous outings against Australia (away) and England (home and away) seemed to have happened a lifetime ago.
Having received a well-earned rest after the trip to the Caribbean, Dhoni might have had a chance to savour the success of the past few months, while leading a young team. But unfortunately sports doesn’t allow too much time to rest on the laurels, even for someone like Dhoni, whose success ratio as captain is unrivalled in the history of Indian cricket.
Challenges of various nature and proportions will come calling on him in the months to come, and the first hurdle the Jharkhand man needs to negotiate is an eight-match series (one T20 and seven one-dayers) against Australia, beginning here on Thursday. Then there is a home series against the West Indies, and Dhoni will have to keep the team on its toes amidst all the hoopla that will surround the 200th Test of Sachin Tendulkar. It’s certainly an occasion to celebrate, but Dhoni must motivate his wards to focus more on the team goals.
From a cricketing angle, these two series may not pose Dhoni too many troubles, as India will be taking on their rivals on their home turf – a bastion that only a select few could breach in the past. However, the comfort of playing in familiar conditions may not extend beyond the series against Windies as India is scheduled to travel to South Africa towards the end of this year.
If that tour happens, then it will mark the beginning of a year that will see India visiting New Zealand, England and Australia – places that offer not much comfort for visiting teams. Here, Dhoni’s skills as captain, batsman and man manager will come under harsh assay. It’s a possibility that India may not have the towering presence of Tendulkar on those tours, leaving Dhoni in charge of completely new-look Test team.
With uncertainty surrounding the return of seniors like Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Zaheer Khan, the burden of playing the dual role of leader and mentor will well be with Dhoni. Indeed, the likes of Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja have shown immense promise in the last few months. But playing non-stop cricket, particularly the Test format, in alien conditions is not a test these youngsters are familiar with, and Dhoni here should act as guiding force to them.
Dhoni’s comments after England pummeled India at Eden Gardens in December last year, perhaps, captured his methodology.
“For me, my responsibility is to get the team together. This is where experience will count. As a leader, this is a challenge that has been thrown up to me or towards me. It's always good to lead a side when everybody is doing well. That's a time when you don't need a leader. Leading a side when the team is not doing well is the real challenge,” he had said.
Well, the team has been doing well at the moment and Dhoni might be finding it easy to lead the side that has been on a roll. But whether between Dhawan, Pujara, Jadeja and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, India have the nucleus of a long-term match-winners remains to be seen. The leadership abilities of Dhoni might be indubitable, but he has to ensure that the aforementioned names remain constant part of a winning Indian team.
His legacy will be completed only then.