Former India skipper Rahul Dravid has thrown his weight behind the beleaguered Mahendra Singh Dhoni, saying that he is the "only man" capable of leading the Test team but should quit Twenty20 captaincy to avoid becoming "stale".
"Not only is Dhoni the only man to lead India in Test cricket, he is still capable of doing the job well. What it will require from him is a change in the way he captains, a recognition that he can't do everything all the time, and the willingness to ask for and accept help," Dravid said.
"Dhoni has got to recognise that he can't continue to captain and play all the time, because it is making him stale... To start with, Dhoni could easily give up the India T20 and Chennai Super Kings captaincies...He needs to take breaks between captaining and keeping and playing," he wrote in his 'ESPNCricinfo' column.
"He should certainly play ODIs and T20s for India, because he is invaluable to the side. Giving up a couple of captaincy roles might give him more time in the main India job and the freshness to keep doing it. It would also give India an opportunity to perhaps give someone like (Virat) Kohli a chance to be T20 captain, break him into the job and see how he goes," he said.
Dhoni's captaincy was criticised after India's recent home Test debacle against England followed by the ODI loss to arch-foes Pakistan. Even though he is in decent form with the bat, several former players feel Dhoni has shown signs of fatigue as captain. But Dravid believes India does not have anyone to replace the wicketkeeper-batsman, who led the country to the 2007 Twenty20 World title besides the 2011 ODI World Cup.
Dravid also said that Dhoni should change his approach slightly. "He has had a good run, and will be recognised as India's most successful captain, and he now has a chance to extend it. Other than his leadership qualities, there is the fact that there are no alternatives to Dhoni at this stage," he pointed out.
Dravid said opener Gautam Gambhir could have been a possible captaincy candidate but his lack of form in Tests has put a question mark on that.
"At one point we felt Gautam Gambhir could take over the job. In 2008-09, Gautam showed he could definitely play at the international level and in all formats. His captaincy of Kolkata Knight Riders in the last IPL was excellent."
"Yet what goes against him today is the fact that he has not scored too many Test runs in the last three years, and he averages under 32. Also, unlike Dhoni, Gautam does not have a second skill to back up his batting, even if that skill is being an excellent slip fielder," explained the batting great, who accumulated over 24,000 in international cricket for India.
"Still, Gautam's batsmanship and experience remain very important for the team, and giving him the captaincy at a time like this would be a burden on him. Before anything else, he has to get his Test batting back on track. If he does, he still has age on his side," he said.
As for promising Virat Kohli's chances of leading India, Dravid said the youngster needs more time to evolve.
"Virat Kohli is the only other alternative leader, and he ticks the box of being an automatic selection in all three formats. Yet I believe it's a little early for him. At the moment, he is a growing, developing cricketer. "I would love for him to get the job after the next overseas cycle is done, with the end of the England tour in September 2014. If he can keep his form and develop till then, it will be a good time for him to take over. He is a long-term prospect as batsman and captain, but giving him the Test captaincy at this stage might be risky," he explained.
Dravid said Dhoni, if he still has the zeal, should continue to lead the side in its transition phase and quit when the side settles down. "Between the home series against Australia next month and the end of that England tour, there are 15 Test matches."
"At the end of those 15 Tests, if Dhoni can have turned things around for Indian cricket, have had a couple of good overseas tours, and can then hand over the captaincy to the next man, that would rank among his greatest achievements," he said. "He would have taken the responsibility of leading a team in transition and left it in a better state."
Dravid praised Dhoni for leading by example and showing tenacity in adversity. "What I like about Dhoni is that he is a leader by example. We saw this in the Nagpur Test match - and not merely from his second-innings 99. In Nagpur, because the wicket was slow, Dhoni came up to the stumps to Ishant Sharma, who was bowling at 140kph.
"To do that was gutsy, because it had "break your finger" written all over it. Dhoni was willing to take that chance, and to me, in some ways, that shows leadership. Sometimes he promotes himself up the batting order at critical times - the World Cup final was a good example," he recalled.
"He is willing to play through niggles and injuries. That provides an example for others in the team to follow. When he bats with the tail, he plays his shots, can improvise, and shows he is not there to protect his own runs or his wicket," he said.