Captain Dhoni at the crossroads

Beleaguered Jharkhandi faces most demanding test of memorable career

Undoubtedly, Mahendra Singh Dhoni has been the most influential Indian cricketer in the last decade – unparalleled finisher in one-dayers, more than handy Test batsman, smart wicket-keeper, and multiple World Cup-winning captain.

where am i headed? After two inglorious summers in England and Australia, skipper MS Dhoni has come under intense scrutiny from all quarters.

But two inglorious summers in England and Australia, his poor Test form and talk of rift in a team that resembled an impenetrable phalanx ten months ago have put the Jharkhandi at the cross-roads. It means Dhoni the skipper and the batsman are under considerable pressure, a situation he has never had to deal with earlier in a remarkably successful career.

Let’s start with Dhoni the captain. His hallmark was the ability to unearth ‘Golden Moves’ from nowhere at the right time to change the course of a game. Later, he would attribute that to sheer ‘fluke’ with a smiling face.

But he seems incapable of pulling such rabbits out of the hat these days. The once vibrant skipper seems to have gotten into a prolonged defensive mood, letting oppositions off the hook several times. Unlikely pairs like Thilan Samaraweera and Ajantha Mendis at the P Sara in 2010, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Fidel Edwards in Dominica in 2011, and James Pattinson and Peter Siddle in Melbourne late last year have reaped the benefits of his ultra-defensive fields, all partnerships having a major say in the eventual outcome of the match.

It can be argued that he was forced to adopt a negative approach because of the ineffectiveness of the bowlers at his disposal, but there’s a counter that he should have shown more innovativeness as skipper in his field placements that would have given the bowlers something to work with.

These are on-field matters. But off it too, Dhoni does not seem to have a full grip over things as reports of a rift between him and some senior members have filled the pages in recent days. It can be said that they might have been blown out of proportion, but different voices on key areas like rotation of senior batsmen and fielding abilities by some of his colleagues in press conferences need more explanation. Virender Sehwag had said on Tuesday that the reason given to them for rotating the seniors was to give more opportunities to young batsmen like Rohit Sharma.

But a few days back, Dhoni had stated that the rotation policy was adopted because picking three seniors – Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir – could cost the team 20 runs in the field.

Serious enquiry

So, it demands a serious enquiry from the bigwigs to unearth the real reason behind the cracks that are getting increasingly visible just ten months after winning the World Cup because the differences in opinion aren’t helping the team in any way.

Dhoni also has the responsibility of guiding a team that will soon take the field without some of the biggest icons in the history of cricket. But here too, he has come up with a rather bewildering move. Dhoni said he might have to give up one format to last till the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, and his statement could put the selection set-up in a quandary.

If Dhoni eventually decides to retire from one format next year, Test cricket in this case, the selectors will have to find a replacement for him with important tours of South Africa, England and Australia lined up one after another. Sehwag and Gambhir could have presented options, but the Delhi duo hasn’t scored many runs, and the next choice could be Virat Kohli.

But the Delhi lad, who has taken some massive strides as batsman in Australia, is still not mature enough to handle the pressures and demands of captaincy.

The requirements of captaincy finally seem to have been catching up with Dhoni the batsman, at least in Tests as in one-dayers he continues to be a frighteningly effective batsman. Dhoni has played 16 Tests from the away series against South Africa in late 2010, scoring 763 runs 29.34 with a highest of 144 against the West Indies at Kolkata,
It’s not a bad record for someone who comes to bat at number seven, but that Eden hundred against the Windies is his lone big score in India’s victory in this period.

This, perhaps, is the first time in his career that Dhoni has had to tackle so many adversities together. His response will be fascinating to watch.

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