Safety-first approach did Dhoni in

Safety-first approach did Dhoni in

Mahendra Singh Dhoni flipped the microphone around with a wry laugh in the press conference. Minutes ago, England had beaten India by an innings and 244 runs at the Oval. It seemed Dhoni wasn’t caring.

But hasn’t he always maintained that the process is more important than the result? Didn’t get the point? Let’s decode that. Dhoni likes to look at the overall picture. It doesn’t irk him that Virat Kohli has managed only 134 runs from 10 innings here. For Dhoni, it’s just a lean patch that any cricketer can go through.

For him, Kohli’s hundreds in South Africa and New Zealand are signs of his progress. It doesn’t really worry him that slip fielders are dropping sitters. For him, they are working hard at training sessions and hopes that they will come good at some stage.

Now, what about a 3-1 thrashing in this series? For Dhoni, the 4-0 mauling in 2011 was far more disappointing because that team had a bunch of greats in it and still failed. For Dhoni, this team is still learning and he urges teammates to store the lessons in their mind so that next time they can be better prepared.

There is logic in his viewpoints, though it’s beyond a common cricket fan, waiting for an Indian victory every time. Now, that logic has begun to hurt India. In nine months, they have lost three away Test series in South Africa, New Zealand and England. Yes, these are tough places for a touring side but a different approach from Dhoni would have altered the course of each of those.

India could have won in Johannesburg and Wellington but failed to deliver that one final punch. When the moment beckoned, at the first hint of resistance from the opposition, Dhoni went into a passive mode. The Jharkhand man was at his aggressive best at Trent Bridge and at Lord’s.

He played with five bowlers and was never hesitant to take the chances that came his way. He wasn’t thinking about process, victory was in his mind. A lifeless pitch at Nottingham, though, thwarted his plans. Dhoni asked Ishant Sharma to bowl short-pitched balls and English batsmen’s bravado helped that strategy to fructify.

But his intuitiveness to exploit the ego of English batsmen was stunning. What would you expect him to do in the next Test after going 1-0 up in the series? Be assertive and never let England come back, but he cracked against a stubborn Alastair Cook and Ian Bell at Southampton. He went back to his defensive mode and the captain’s defensiveness percolated into teammates. Fight had left India and process returned. India lost the next two Tests and series by crushing margins.

However, India will play a three-match Test series at home against the West Indies in a month’s time. Barring a disaster of epic proportions, India are certain to win it and everybody, even the players, will forget about the mauling at England’s hands. Swagger and joy will return, doomsayers will sing hosannas.

It’s the most loathsome part. But for Dhoni, it’s the perfect scenario, living in the present without caring about past and future. But now time has come for him to look at future too. Tour of Australia will come in four months time, and catastrophe awaits them Down Under but for a drastic change of perception and meticulous planning.

Dhoni needs to find a settled team combination, a mix with which he can play Test cricket home and away. Right now, his belief in this team’s winning ability abroad appears dim, forcing him to be a safety-first skipper. Dhoni and the backroom staff need to focus on that in the introspection session. Hope there is one, and it should be honest too.

Once they find an answer for that, Dhoni will have to tell himself to be more proactive. It doesn’t matter one bit what he tells us in the press conference or even to his wards. Dhoni has to convince his conscience to not to squander the chances, strengthen his resolve to go for the knockout punch at the first available opportunity.

It is important because Dhoni soon will have to match his wits with Michael Clarke, a captain who goes to extreme extents for victory. Dhoni has to re-programme his brain, tuning it to look ahead rather than staying at just one point.

Dhoni needs to have a vision for future and courage to implement it. Otherwise, this fine generation of cricketers will forever be remembered as underachievers. Victory in World Cups, T20s, IPL, Champions Trophy, nothing will absolve him of that blame.

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