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MSD's away stats too bad to ignore

Clayton MurzelloComparisons are often made between the captaincy of Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Sourav Ganguly. While comparisons can be fun and debate-inviting, the away Test results of the current captain are making this little ‘competition’ a no-contest.

Sure, India fought hard in the Auckland Test where New Zealand won by 40 runs, but the stats are there for everyone to see: He has not led India to an away win in his last 12 Tests. What makes Dhoni’s record worse is that India have lost nine out of his last 10 overseas Tests.

So next time someone says that Dhoni is a good Test captain, (there’s no questioning his limited overs captaincy), he must follow it with an ‘only at home’ reminder. For the record, Ganguly led India to 11 Test wins, one more than he lost in 28 overseas Tests. That Dhoni has just five Test wins in 22 Tests abroad doesn’t do justice to his leadership skills.

Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni and coach Duncan Fletcher should have produced far better results abroad. Pic/AFP
Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni and coach Duncan Fletcher should have produced far better results abroad. Pic/AFP

What stops Dhoni from experiencing success when conditions are different from home? To be fair to him, on the Australian tour of 2011-12, he didn’t have his great batting line-up firing in a pack. Earlier, in England, Zaheer Khan limped off with a hamstring injury on the opening day of the first Test at Lord’s.

And though toiler Praveen Kumar claimed a fifer, he didn’t get the Englishmen out cheaply. In the next Test at Trent Bridge, Dhoni inserted the opposition and Praveen, Ishant Sharma and S Sreesanth did well to bowl England out for 221. India’s 67-run first innings lead didn’t matter as England piled on a massive 544 before bowling out India for 158 and winning by 319 runs.

The tourists were completely outplayed at Edgbaston and the Oval where RP Singh, returning from his reported holiday in Miami, couldn’t replicate the kind of performance which was one of the reasons why then England captain Michael Vaughan said the Indian bowlers taught his team something about swing bowling.

Hearing Vaughan utter those words in the media conference room at the Oval made me proud of Rahul Dravid’s soldiers, but all that evaporated in the 2011 series. Dhoni’s biggest challenges abroad arrive when a batsman is on the rampage and he doesn’t have the heavy artillery in his bowling line-up to stop the flow of runs.

Experts may reckon he is short of ideas as well. Sample the big scorers he has had to deal with abroad in his last 10 Tests since July 2011: 202 not out by Kevin Pietersen at Lord’s in 2011, 294 by Alastair Cook at Edgbaston in 2011, 175 by Kevin Pietersen at the Oval in 2011, 235 by Ian Bell at the Oval in 2011, 329 by Michael Clarke at Sydney in 2012, 180 by David Warner at Perth in 2012, 224 by Brendon McCullum at Auckland in 2013.

With India’s young batsmen having the performance to support hope for the future, it’s now time the young fast bowlers blossom soon for their country and captain. The likes of Mohammad Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar (whenever he gets to play his first Test abroad) need to play a string of Test matches without being interrupted by loss of form or fitness issues.

There is also a failure to cash in on his luck at the toss. In his last 10 Tests, Dhoni has won the toss on six occasions. Even though coaches don’t get credited in the scorecard for victories, they are meant to play a significant role. Duncan Fletcher has been coach during those defeats in England and Australia. Yet, he was not replaced. It’s a strange situation to be in: Asking better results from the players, but living with a poor record as coach.

Despite Dhoni’s disastrous record abroad, he is still the best man to lead India simply because there are no other options. The same cannot be said when it comes to coaches. Surely, Fletcher enjoys great support from the big bosses of Indian cricket, but there must come a time where results must be looked into.

He gets what no other coach in world cricket enjoys not being questioned by the media on a regular basis. It was baffling not to see him attending a press conference before the team left for South Africa, but making an appearance on arrival in SA where the captain and he addressed the media.

Dhoni will not be able to end the New Zealand tour with a series win, but he can stop New Zealand from winning it. For a player of his calibre, he needs to contribute significantly with the bat too. His overseas Test average since the start of the 2011 tour of England is 25.44 and his last half century abroad came against Australia at Sydney two years ago. Will the real Dhoni please stand up?

Clayton Murzello is MiD DAY’s Group Sports Editor

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