27 Jan 2013
Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s captaincy for India is a boon and a curse at the same time. Dhoni’s current captaincy form shows a woeful 9 losses out of the last 16 Tests – and the 5 win includes the 2 in West Indies and a series win at home against cricket’s favourite punching bag NZ. The period includes humiliating series losses to England and Australia overseas and against England at home. Unfortunately, India is fast becoming a ‘punching bag’ itself.
Critics of Dhoni are slowly outnumbering the supporters as a number of hitherto Dhoni fans are losing hope. But there is more to the story than meets the eye. The average cricket follower has to be pointed out that there is a vast difference between Test cricket, one-day cricket and Twenty-20 cricket. And there are not many cricketers who are good in all forms and there are not many captains who understand and appreciate all the different varieties. Dhoni is no exception and my following arguments will support my view he is a boon to Indian cricket in one-dayers and Tweny-20 both as player and a leader, and a curse in Test cricket as the leader.
Dhoni’s style of cricket, and hence his thinking and understanding of the game is second to none when it comes to one-day cricket and Twenty-20. Dhoni’s record as a player and also as a captain in one-day and Twenty-20 cricket is staggering, which includes 2 World Titles. His strategy and execution in the shorter versions of the game are far superior. His calm demeanour and his body language – or the lack of it – lends a rock-like steadiness during often chaotic situations. And when he comes out to bat towards the end he is the only person that you will put your faith in to deliver – and deliver is what he often does – in his own inimitable style – slow first and demolition later.
More recently, Dhoni has played 27 ODI innings since 2011 World Cup and scored 1166 runs at a mind-boggling average of 83.28 and at a strike rate of 92.39 – ok the average has been helped by 13 not-outs during this period due to the fact that he bats low down – but even allowing for that the above are staggering numbers during a time that India as a team have done precious little. He guides the team when wickets fall all around him during the middle and closing stages, and during the slog overs he really lets loose to put any bowling attack to the sword. Therefore, as a batsman too Dhoni is invaluable to the team in the shorter versions of the game.
In short he is the most valuable cricketer for India in the shorter versions of the game.
We then come to the long version of the game, Test cricket. Here his record is patchy and in the recent past has been nothing short of abysmal. Sure the fact that “a captain is only as good as the team” is not something we should forget. He has had to deal with massive changes to the quality of the team in the recent past with the departure of invaluable players such as Dravid, Laxman and Kumble – and Sachin brought back to mortal levels. He bats so low in the order himself to actually make a great meaningful impact in Test cricket any way – and that is not to blame him for failure of specialist batsman ahead of him – he can’t be expected to do everything. His role as a wicket keeper batsman in the Test team is also not questionable and I would give him a hearty tick.
The only flaw in his career (and show me which great cricketer does not have one) is his indifferent approach and often inaction in the Test arena as a captain. He is over defensive and also gives the impression that he is bored during the 5 day matches and lets things drift mechanically. He either does not completely understand the subtle nuances of the long version or is not interested in them. Articles and reports would indicate that he has said as much during his early days. This in itself is not a flaw – not everyone has to like all forms of the game. In fact I can’t imagine a captain who is or was as effective in all forms of the game as Dhoni is in the shorter version.
Perhaps, and more importantly, his influence and views on the impressionable minds of young cricketers in India is also a factor that India is not producing good players of the game in the long format. It is a changing paradigm in India. Is it a temporary phenomenon or a long lasting shift in the meaning of cricket itself in general towards shorter versions of the game? Is it only in India or is it more widespread in the rest of the cricket world? Is the rest of the world deceiving itself by giving disproportionate importance to Test cricket? And they will be taken to the new world kicking and screaming? But later will the rest of the world realise that shifting grounds have left them behind? Time will tell. But that is a topic for another day.
So what is the answer for Dhoni? Relieve him of Test captaincy but keep him as a player and keeper in Tests? Perhaps.
Retain him as captain for ODIs and Twenty-20s? Most definitely. And thank God everyday that Dhoni is in the Indian team for the shorter versions as both captain and player.