Captain Cool needs to rediscover Midas touch

Indian skipper Dhoni will have to lead from front

Captain Cool needs to rediscover Midas touch

Since the first week of December 2013, when India took on South Africa in Johannesburg in the first of the three-match ODI series, MS Dhoni has gone without a win in 12 completed matches across all formats. It’s a damning piece of statistics for India’s most successful captain. 

As Virat Kohli recently remarked, Dhoni has successfully tided over far worse situations in his near five-year stint at the helm but the voices against his captaincy are only getting more and more strident by each loss. Former India captains, whose voices carry a significant weight, have described Dhoni’s captaincy as defensive to obnoxious and such opinions are unlikely to abate if India’s losing sequence continues. 

Monday’s narrow defeat at the hands of Sri Lanka in a warm-up game, in which Dhoni didn’t bat, in Dhaka will be overlooked but critics won’t be as generous if India don’t pick themselves up once the tournament proper begins on March 21 against traditional foes Pakistan at the Sher-e-Bangla stadium.  

Having rested himself for the Asia Cup, Dhoni returns to lead the side and the Jharkhandi will be under pressure to deliver even though he may betray few signs of stress. Part of the blame for India’s debacles in the last three World T20s was placed on the hectic schedule Indian Premier League which invariably preceded the biennial event. The fatigue caused by short periods of gap between matches and the rapid criss-crossing of the country for two months was equally held responsible for India’s failure to even reach the semifinals.

This time, however, the IPL will be held post the World T20 and hence India will have little leeway should they fail to measure up again. Dhoni will have to summon his not so inconsiderable experience as leader to inspire this young Indian side to victory. While his captaincy record is impressive in all three formats, notwithstanding the nine away Test losses under him, he is more at home while marshalling his troops in the shorter formats under familiar conditions.  Where he appears averse to taking risks in the longer version, he is still not afraid to make that occasional intuitive decision in ODIs and T20s. His captaincy in the inaugural World T20 was aggressive and hence refreshing. He would have a slip fielder in the slog overs and his choice of Joginder Sharma to bowl the last over in the final against Pakistan was the mother of all gambles. His placement of a fielder at ‘straight mid-on’ in IPL-III final to get rid of the dangerous Kieron Pollard was a master-stroke as was his promotion to number four in the batting order in the final of 2011 World Cup.  

Often a captain’s personal form reflects on his leadership skills as well and Dhoni, one of the finest batsmen in shorter versions, can hope to change the fortunes of his team in a format he can control. Remember how he scripted India’s win over Sri Lanka in the tri-series final in West Indies last July? Kohli did a decent job as a stand-in skipper in the Asia Cup but Dhoni’s absence was felt during the crunch stages of the games against Sri Lanka and Pakistan. His monk-like temperament and unflustered demeanour is what the team requires at this moment. 

The 32-year-old’s captaincy record in ODIs (World Cup and Champions Trophy wins) and T20s (World T20, two IPL titles and one CLT20 triumph) is unmatched and he needs to rediscover that Midas touch. A captain, it is often said, is only as good as the team he has. Occasionally, the converse can also be true. 

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