Captaincy is 90 percent luck and 10 percent skill. But don’t try it without the 10 per cent.
Whenever we try to analyse the captaincy skills of any individual, I guess it is nice to keep the above mentioned quote of Richie Benaud in mind.
India’s recent debacle, this time at the T20 World Cup being played in the familiar terrains of Sri Lanka, has set the rumour mills buzzing whether it is time to hand over the captaincy reigns to someone else.
But results alone should not lead to the axing of a skipper – after all it is a team game and the captain is as good as the team he has. Also, some may rant of sufficient statistics to prove that Dhoni is by far the best captain that we have ever had and perhaps he is being made a victim of over expectation from the fans as well as cricket administrators.
In this article we will try to look objectively at his performance as a captain in the last 18 odd months and see if there is indeed something to suggest that our captain cool’s leadership has indeed turned cold.
To do that, we will first have a look at some of the things that made him special in the first place.
4th April 2005: 148 off 123 balls against Pakistan at Vizag in only his second ODI made the world look up and take notice. His style quotient with long mane and caveman like built was equally venerable.
31st October 2005: 183* against Sri Lanka, proved the first century was not flash in the pan. Indian fans heaved a sigh of relief that finally we have unearthed a quality wicket keeper batsman.
September 2007: Mahi was entrusted to lead a very young and inexperienced side for the edition of T20 World Cup at South Africa. The scars of being knocked out in the very first round of the 50 over World Cup earlier that year weighed heavily on the minds of the Indian fans.
September 14, 2007: India defeats Pakistan via bowl out after the match ended in a tie. Dhoni’s captaincy was highly praised as in the bowl out he opted for spinners and part timers. He reasoned that part timers would be under lesser pressure as opposed to regular bowlers and for slow bowlers it is easier to simply roll their arm over and hit the stumps. Sehwag, Bhajji and Uthappa vindicated Dhoni’s decision by securing a 3-0 victory. We realised that Dhoni had a sound cricketing brain as well.
24th September 2007: All the good work that the team did in the fifteen odd days at South Africa resulted in India’s triumph in the first edition of World T20. The final, against Pakistan was an extremely tight affair and Dhoni was duly credited for keeping a cool head under extreme pressure. He soon became India’s captain cool.
October 2008: India won two tests against Australia when Dhoni took over the mantle due to Kumble’s injury. His smart and attacking field settings were applauded by fans and critics.
IPL Specials: Two further instances of Dhoni’s brilliant captaincy that has remained itched in the minds of Indian cricket followers happened in IPL. The first was in May 2010 when in the finals against Mumbai Indians, Keiron Pollard seemed on his way to ruin Dhoni’s party by plundering Doug Bollinger for more than 20 runs in an over. In the next over Dhoni came with a master plan. He got Albie Morkel to bowl and he kept a fielder at both mid off as well as long off, one behind the other. This plan paid instant dividend as in that very over Pollard who was always looking to hit straight was hold out at mid off.
Similarly in the inaugural match of the 4th Edition of IPL, Dhoni’s Super Kings were up against Gambhir’s Knight Riders. The match went down the wire and KKR needed 4 runs of the last ball. Tim Southee had the ball in his hand. Realising the fact that the KKR batsmen were unlikely to get a boundary in the conventional way Dhoni took care to ensure they did not get a boundary of either an inside edge or outside edge. Later in the post match conference Mahi stated that since it was impossible to have a fielder in all corners of the park he concentrated on having the fielders were batsmen were most likely to score runs from.
April 2,2011 World Cup victory: Perhaps the most prominent feather in the skipper’s hat. After a long hiatus of 28 years India triumphed in the fifty overs World Cup. Captain courageous was once again in the limelight as he led from the front in the final, scoring 91 unbeaten runs at more than run a ball.
Thus we can see that Dhoni’s Midas touch as a skipper was also well supported by an astute cricket brain that also managed to keep its nerve under pressure.
However post the back to back triumph in World Cup and IPL in 2011 Dhoni’s magic as a skipper have also seemed to wane off.
July 2011 Backing off from a winning position: India, the number one test team in the world was locked in a fight against the lowly placed West Indies at Dominica in the third test. Surprisingly Dhoni decided to abort the run chase on the fifth day when India needed a further 86 runs of 90 balls to win with 7 wickets in hand. Granted, the pitch was deteriorating but with India opting for seven batsmen and old warhorse Dravid and Laxman still at the crease, this decision was baffling to the world cricket audience.
England Test Series: It was a nightmare series for India. Everything that could have gone wrong, did. Injury to key players, lack of form of others. However what really hurt the Indian fans was the lack of fight shown by the team. It was one thing to be dominated by a superior team it is another to see the sign of surrender even before the team has taken the field. Dhoni had to take a share of the blame as well as barring the third test, his batting and keeping looked insipid throughout.
Australia Series: Yet another away series in which Dhoni’s willow was silent. Worse was the manner of his dismissals which betrayed his resolve to at least put up a fight. Reserve wicket keeper Saha’s gritty innings in Adelaide highlighted it even more. Even his leadership was under the scanner as despite successive failures in both England and Australia, Mahi refused to introduce any new faces in the starting line up. Later on during the ODIs, there seemed to be a communication gap within the team that played its part in India’s below par performance in the ODIs as well.
Inability to rein in the seniors: However these debacles are not the only thing. In the last couple of years we have seen Sehwag throw away his starts. When the slow bowlers are on, his penchant for sending every ball to the stands has brought a premature end to his innings numerous number of times in the recent past. Granted that Sehwag is a special player with loads of experience but as a captain one has to gently remind Viru the fine line between a breathtaking shot and a reckless one. Sadly, that communication has never seemed to take place.
Similarly Zaheer’s attitude with the bat in hand and in the field has been extremely disappointing. Case in point can be the 3rd test against West Indies in Mumbai. Ashwin was nearing a memorable century and he needed someone to stay put at the other end. But the way Zaheer threw his wicket away seemed to suggest that he couldn’t care less. Such attitude can have a very negative impact on the morale of the entire squad. Unfortunately our skipper has done precious little to address that either.
Disinclination to win: The final nail to the coffin was hit in the final match of the Super Eight stage of the recently concluded T20 World Cup. Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s reluctance in even trying to win a place in the knock out stages seems to have perplexed the fans and experts alike. At the end of the match he seemed quite content with India’s overall performance and put the blame of failing to make the semi finals on the rain intervention in the match against Australia!
Handling the expectations of more than a billion fans throughout the year must be taxing. Somewhere down the line, as the incidents above show our Captain cool has lost his zeal and desire to win at any cost. His failure with the bat hasn’t helped either.
Dhoni himself had hinted that by the end of 2013 he may choose to retire from one form of the game. So it is a good time to start looking for his successor and thank Mahi for all the joys that he has given to the Indian cricket fans.