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Time for Dhoni to break overseas jinx

What works elsewhere need not hold good for India, but it is true that Mahendra Singh Dhoni would not have survived as Test captain in a non-Indian cricketing set up.

As much as it was realistic to expect Krishnamachari Srikkanth’s 2011-12 selection committee to replace Dhoni after his twin horrors in England (0-4) and Australia (India lost three Tests under Dhoni) four years ago, it was foolhardy to expect him to give up the job.

Meanwhile, India continue to struggle overseas and their last Test win outside India was in June 2011 at Sabina Park in Kingston where Dhoni’s men won by 63 runs.

What shouldn’t be ignored is that Mahendra Singh Dhoni has been India captain in all formats for seven years. No other Indian captain’s first stint has been that long and nothing lasts forever. Pic/Getty Images
What shouldn’t be ignored is that Mahendra Singh Dhoni has been India captain in all formats for seven years. No other Indian captain’s first stint has been that long and nothing lasts forever. Pic/Getty Images

Dhoni appeared to have shot himself in the foot through his selection for the opening Test against England at Nottingham last week. That he reckoned Ravindra Jadeja was a better spin option than Ravichandran Ashwin was astounding, never mind if Jadeja claimed six wickets in the Durban Test against South Africa last December when the home team plundered 500 runs.

If Jadeja’s batting powers get into the mix, then Ashwin has two Test hundreds to his name, albeit on home soil. Spare a thought for Harbhajan Singh who was left behind in India because Ashwin emerged as India’s number one spinner. And for heaven’s sake, Ashwin was adjudged India’s best international cricketer of the year at the last BCCI awards where he was presented the Polly Umrigar Trophy.

Another poor selection at Nottingham was all-rounder Stuart Binny, who did wonders to his mindset with 78 on the final day at Nottingham after bowling only 10 overs. Will Captain Courageous show bravado in dropping Binny despite his batting heroics? Or will he still need Binny’s bowling to give a break to his seamers, a purpose Dhoni believed was served in Nottingham.

Dhoni has been a brilliant captain in limited overs cricket and to some extent, a good leader in home Tests, but abroad is where all those accolades evaporate. If not for the lifeless pitch at Nottingham, and a warped team combination, India may have drawn first blood there. Sure, Dhoni wants to add meat to his batting order, but an attacking captain will always want to have the strongest bowling ammunition on the basis of that old cricketing truism you need to take 20 wickets to win a Test.

It is too early to write off India in the five-match Test series in England. The batsmen are capable of coming into their own and the pace bowling looks promising. Doubtless, things will change if a couple of match-winning bowlers emerge. However, Dhoni would be better off to listen to the voice of logic than his gut that tends to fail him in the traditional form of the game.

One wonders whether their bosses in the corridors of power question Dhoni and coach Duncan Fletcher about the team’s failures. John Wright, who was coach from 2000 to 2004, was. Wright wrote in Indian Summers how he received a fax from then BCCI president Jagmohan Dalmiya barely six days after assuming office in 2001.

Dalmiya asked Wright in a fax message, “why the team was inconsistent, why our batsmen couldn’t turn ones into twos, and why they lost their wickets by getting ‘caught in the dilemmas of yes and no’. Are these a result of natural disability or a lack of proper training programmes?”

While Dhoni should not be a victim of unfair criticism and ought to be given a little more credit for his home triumphs, making questionable selections like the ones in Nottingham will not help his cause. What also shouldn’t be ignored is that he has been India captain in all formats for seven years. No other Indian captain’s first stint has been that long and nothing lasts forever.

He sure needs to improve his overseas record. If he takes the right calls better than he did in Nottingham and his bowlers deliver for him to complement his talented batting side, who knows, he could still end up lifting the Pataudi Trophy at the Oval next month. For all that he has done for Indian cricket in the main, he deserves to have a major Test overseas win on his cricketing resume.

Clayton Murzello is mid-day’s Group Sports Editor

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