By Venkata Sai Praveen: When everything he did became a success and worked wonders, Mahendra Singh Dhoni seemed to be the most influential captain in the cricket world. His results were so impressive that many people hailed him to become the greatest skipper ever. But, all good things must come to an end and so did Dhoni’s midas touch.
Nevertheless, the skipper in him is unfazed by all the brickbats hurled at him and is as cool as ever. But, it is the progress card of the Indian team that exhibited a lot of difference.
Dhoni is a lion-hearted cricketer (the undeniable proof of this being his promotion ahead of the in-form Yuvi, in the 2011 ODI WC final versus SriLanka, when he himself was not in great touch and playing a magnificent innings under pressure) but regularly forced to be on the defensive mainly because of his team’s poor bowling resources.
The decision of the BCCI to appoint the young curly haired Jharkhand lad as the captain of the team India ahead of seniors like Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag for the inaugural edition of the World T20 must have taken almost every Indian fan by surprise.
That was the beginning of an eventful journey of Dhoni as the skipper. It was an Indian team full of young blood and missing its old war-horses Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly.
When the hard-hitting Misbah-Ul-Haque was threatening to snatch the victory from India in the final, Dhoni handed the ball to Joginder Sharma and Sharma delivered. That was the beginning of a long and wonderful spell of success as the captain which would later be followed by nightmarish defeats.
The way in which he guided the young and inexperienced team to the title was magnificent and earned him laurels but what followed later in the next three editions of World T20 was saddening for the Indian fans. His decision making too became faulty. Sending the young Ravindra Jadeja ahead of Yuvi, the perennial tormentor of England in 2009 World T20 and the inexplicable promotion of Irfan Pathan to the opening slot in 2012 World T20, are two notable cases.
Those blunders cost India dear and the first one in particular, significantly hindered the team’s progress to the next round. Cricket is a team game and it would be foolish to put the entire responsibility on the skipper alone for the team’s final performances but logic-defying decisions by the skipper can have a destructive effect on the team. Although India did relatively well in this year’s World T20, the semis berth remained elusive.
Dhoni’s poor returns with the bat too played their part in India’s failure in the T20 arena. It is surprising that a player of MS’s calibre and aggression has a strike rate of less than 120 in T20 internationals. His slow and over-cautious batting often put his team in trouble. His struggling 7 runs off 20 odd balls against the West Indies in World T20 2009 is only one of many such cases.
Having taken India to the shores of victory on a number of tricky situations (the most notable of them being the 2011 ODI World cup final vs. SriLanka), Dhoni can rightly claim to be the greatest finisher in today’s cricket but his keenness to leave the game till the very end when it could have been finished a lot earlier is dangerous and puts tremendous pressure on the batsmen at the other end.
When it comes off, it looks miraculous but when it does not, it is heart-breaking. Take for instance, his snail paced batting in Yuvi’s comeback T20 international against the Black Caps. Dhoni struggled on the same pitch where Yuvi was hitting the ball freely and in the end, India lost the match by one run, which they should have won quite easily.
Coming to the longest version of the game, the recent performance of Dhoni as a batsman is way below the mark. He is a big match-winner in the limited overs cricket but when it comes to Test cricket, he is only a decent batsman. His batting average of just 38 in tests does not do any justice to the incredible batting talent of Dhoni.
Dhoni’s first test defeat came after 8 wins and 11 test matches. That fruitful period included not only sub-continental success but also significant wins overseas. (Beating the Kiwis and the Proteas in their homelands, which have historically been very tough touring places for the Indian teams). But, the clean-sweeps in England and Australia simply put all the success achieved in the first half as the captain, in shade. The two halves of Dhoni’s captaincy record are remarkably contrasting.
The Indians went to England with the number one ranking but received hammering like minnows. They had a strong team and the best chance to defeat Australia in Australia but the same story repeated. It has been a while since these two disastrous tours happened and the Indian players played a lot of cricket after that, but those crushing defeats are hard to forget for any Indian cricket fan.
Under Dhoni’s captaincy, India achieved the number one ranking in tests for the first time since it started playing cricket in 1932 but this fact is now forgotten and is overshadowed by crushing losses overseas.
The Indian team’s performance has not been great in the recent months in all the formats but the uber cool Dhoni does not have strong challengers and still seems to be the best bet for the hot seat of the Indian captain at least in the limited overs. That is the curious case of the dynamite of Jharkhand!!