If Saha shines as wicket-keeper, Dhoni should be used as batsman
Sydney: If India approach it the right way MS Dhoni’s absence from the first Test at the Gabba could turn out to be a blessing in disguise. In the first place his Test captaincy of late has been schizophrenic at best - brilliant at home but botched on tour - and his keeping was below par in England.
So his absence provides an opportunity to see what the future is likely to hold with Virat Kohli leading the side. Every captain has a use-by-date and my sense is that Dhoni has reached his in the longer version of the game. He has failed to ignite his side on three tours now - England twice (apart from the early stages in 2014) and the last time in Australia.
India's Wriddhiman Saha keeping wicket during the Adelaide Test on January 24, 2012. Pic/Getty Images.
While India’s abject capitulation in all three instances isn’t entirely Dhoni’s fault, he has contributed to the failures with his lack of inspirational leadership, strange selections and shoddy glove work. His lack of footwork while keeping and consequent failure to cover any territory in England led to a team fielding exhibition which would’ve been lamentable if it was the local under-11 matting side committing the errors.
While wicketkeeping is always important, in Australia it’s crucial because the extra bounce means it’s imperative to select a glove man who covers a decent expanse standing back. Dhoni is not that man. However, Dhoni is quite capable of holding down a place in the Indian side as a batsman. If Wriddhiman Saha performs well at the Gabba then that is how Dhoni should be used for the rest of the series, especially as India will be looking for batsmen who show grit and determination when it comes to facing the fiery Mitchell Johnson on bouncy pitches.
The only down side would be if Dhoni’s presence as a batsman meant the exclusion of Rohit Sharma from the side. Sharma has as much if not more talent than Kohli but so far the latter has shown a far greater mental aptitude to batting in the five-day game.
If Rohit’s latest extravaganza — a huge double century in an ODI — is a sign that he’s finally knuckling down to make the most of his extraordinary talent then India will benefit. Another reason why he’s crucial to India’s performance in Australia is Rohit’s ability to play the horizontal bat shots.
To succeed, touring batsmen have to score rather than just survive off the back-foot in Australia. In the form Rohit displayed against Australia in Barbados in 2010 when all around him were losing their wickets and he dispatched the short-pitched stuff with ease, Sharma will play an important role in this series. Admittedly on that occasion it was a World T 20 match but his execution of the pull shot was disciplined and destructive.
India has much to prove on this Australian tour. While a four Test series doesn’t have much in common with a demanding World Cup schedule, a good showing in the five day matches could go a long way to building confidence for their defence of the trophy. However, first things first — India needs to show the world they are not invincible at home and easy beats on the road when it comes to Test cricket.
In most cases the loss of a captain for the first match of an important series would be a disaster. However, in this case it may just turn out to be a blessing in disguise for India and also a good guide to what their future will look like.