Should Dhoni be relieved of Test Captaincy?

By Madhu Kshirsagar

March 2014

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“The most incredible thing about miracles is that they happen” – some wise man has said this, and Brendon McCullum proved it by performing his own version of cricketing miracle in pulling New Zealand to safety in the second Test played at Basin Reserve in Wellington. It was a two-match series which the Kiwis won 1-0.

Cricketing miracles do happen regularly against India, though, especially overseas. Just looking at the last few series that India have played overseas – they were thrashed in England, bashed in Australia, bruised in South Africa and, finally, humbled in New Zealand.

McCullum single-handedly rescued the Kiwis from a massive defeat in the second Test by scoring a triple hundred. He was ably assisted by Tom, Dick and Harry down the order and a good dose of indifferent captaincy from Dhoni and friendly Indian fielders. It also showed the quality of Indian bowlers overseas, especially the bowlers who bowl the faster variety. Really, I feel for the Indian batsmen who will never face Indian fast bowlers in international cricket: they will never partake of the feast that the other international batsmen enjoy.

Coming to Dhoni’s captaincy in Tests, now what can I say? If you want to write a book on Test captaincy and have a chapter on how not to captain, all you have to do is plonk down a few of Dhoni’s methods: stay aloof and disinterested behind your sunglasses, make mechanical and defensive changes, and show scant understanding of Test cricket.

There sure is more to the story of Dhoni’s captaincy than what meets the eye. There is a vast difference between Test cricket, one-day cricket and Twenty-20. 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 that he is a boon to Indian cricket in one-dayers and Twenty-20 both as player and a leader, but 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 the shorter versions of the game. 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 demeanor and his body language – or the lack of it – lends a rock-like steadiness during chaotic situations that the team gets itself in often. 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.

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 as captain overseas is nothing short of abysmal. Sure the fact that “a captain is only as good as the team” is something we should not forget, but strategy, incisive thinking and risk taking are also things that matter in a game.

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.

So what is the answer for Dhoni? Relieve him of Test captaincy? Yes.

Retain him as a player and keeper in Tests? Perhaps.

Retain him as captain for ODIs and Twenty-20s? Most definitely.

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