Has Dhoni rediscovered his mojo or is it the calm before the storm?
If ever one wanted to know how fickle minded the Indian media can be, one doesn’t need to look at more than the ongoing Border-Gavaskar Trophy. After a horrendous run of form over the past 18 months in Test match cricket, along with a series loss at home against England, M.S Dhoni came into this series under a lot of pressure. Both his captaincy and his place in the team as a wicket-keeper were in question. A couple of emphatic wins against an inexperienced Australian side has turned the tables completely around for him, with former batting great Sunil Gavaskar suggesting he captain the team till 2019!
A couple of months back, it was said that Dhoni had lost his sheen, he looked jaded, he had become a defensive captain, and no one really noticed that the entire team was failing as a unit. The openers were not firing, the middle order looked out of sorts, bowlers, albeit not India’s strongest point (but more than a handful in spinning conditions), looked inept at the international level, and nothing seemed to be going right for team India.
Just two wins and it all seems to be forgotten. Dhoni is back after returning from a break is what is being portrayed in the media – he is aggressive and a proactive captain now. Yes, some of it might be true, a break might have definitely helped his thought process, but didn’t anyone notice that he still kept his deep points and long off as soon as the Australians started attacking? Even when India was doing well, this was the tactic used by Dhoni – keep the fielders in the deep, strangle the opposition’s scoring rate and pile on the pressure. The reason why it is working again is the fact that the batsmen are piling on the required big scores. Irrespective of whether the Australian bowlers are good enough for Indian conditions, scoreboard pressure does matter, which was lacking for the past 18 months or so.
With the victory in the 2nd Test, Dhoni has become the most successful Indian captain of all time in Tests. Does it necessarily mean that he is India’s greatest captain ever? Statistically yes, and especially considering the fact that Ganguly’s record is inflated mainly due to 9 victories against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, Dhoni is miles ahead of any other Indian Test captain. Some say that Dhoni inherited Ganguly’s team, which helped him achieve all the success he had in his initial years. Another way to look at it is that Ganguly had a group of highly talented individuals who were at the peak of their careers during his tenure. Either way, if Ganguly was the sort of character Indian cricket needed after the dark days of match fixing, Dhoni has been the ideal leader for the transition from the generation of superstars to the next set of upcoming cricketers.
It really isn’t the time to hype up Dhoni once again. Yes, his achievements have been stupendous and are a reason for a celebration. But there are further challenges ahead. 2013 and 2014 sees India travelling to South Africa, New Zealand, England and Australia. How they perform there will be the real test. The selectors have shown they are willing to take hard decisions by dropping out-of-form senior members like Sehwag and Gambhir. 2007 was the year Dhoni became the captain of the ODI team and senior members like Dravid and Ganguly were left out after playing one series under Dhoni. Dhoni probably didn’t feel they would last till the 2011 World Cup, or the selectors felt he would be more comfortable with younger players. What transpired after that was a golden period in Indian cricket. The Test team, now devoid of most of the older players, is not mentally scarred by the previous overseas defeats; who know, this could result in another glorious period for India. Only time will tell.