Why MS Dhoni is looking a good limited-overs captain again
It was the 21st of June 2015. MS Dhoni had just entered the Press Conference room after having lost his first ever ODI series against Bangladesh in their own backyard. The pressure was squarely on him. Questions and doubts over his captaincy and even his place in the side were being fired at him from all corners.
When he was put forth the question once again, an emotional Dhoni had this to say:
"Yes, if it is a justifiable thing that if you remove me and the Indian cricket will start doing really well, and if I am the reason for all the bad that is happening to Indian cricket, definitely I would love to step away and play as a player. Ultimately you want India to win. It doesn't matter who is the captain. I was never really in line to become a captain. It was a job or responsibility for me. I have taken that responsibility. It was given to me, I took it. If they want to take it away, I am happy to give it away.
In the seven-and-a-half years that he had led this side, not once did anybody see this side of him. Every analyst, every player who had played with him, every fan who had followed Indian cricket long enough to understand him, knew that neither victory nor defeat ever flustered him.
But on that night, it seemed a little evident that Dhoni had had enough. He had heard enough talk about him leaving the game and that his bucket of patience couldn't take any more.
India lost that series 2-1 and the talk of Dhoni’s leadership subsided in a few days and remained that way for a while.
South Africa come and the doubts return
If it was after losing the series against Bangladesh that Dhoni found himself in the firing line, against South Africa, it was right after the opening match of the ODI series at Kanpur that the daggers were out on his captaincy as well as on his finishing ability.
Apart from failing to score 11 in the final over of Kagiso Rabada, there were questions over why R Ashwin, the team’s best bowler by a distance was bowled just for a single over before being taken out of the attack.
Everything that Dhoni was doing, it seemed, was bent on failing. He tried to promote himself up the order but couldn't attain the consistency.
When it seemed like India would win the ODI series in Mumbai, after winning in Chennai to level the series at 2-2, he and his team were caught at the wrong end of the flattest pitch of the year as his bowlers were caught at the receiving end of an absolute massacre.
The same Mohit Sharma who had looked so good in the World Cup in Australia earlier that year was being carted all over the place. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, a man who had become so dependable for Dhoni in the early part of the innings earlier, seemed to have lost his sting and suddenly, the bells were ringing even more.
Australia comes and the change arrives
It was the third ODI against Australia in Melbourne. India were 2-0 down in the series and were defending 296 to keep the series alive. Ravindra Jadeja was introduced into the attack and he delivered almost immediately, removing India’s nemesis Steve Smith to brighten their hopes of winning, and then got rid off George Bailey a few overs later to put the hosts in a tight spot.
With Jadeja bowling very well, you would have thought another wicket was around the corner, but in a decision that could be understood only him, he took him off the attack and brought in Barinder Sran. With more pace on the ball, it became easy for Australia thenceforth.
Not only did that call go wrong, but the decision to drop Ashwin, who had just been declared the leading wicket-taker in 2015 also backfired, especially on a pitch that assisted the spinners.
Down 4-0 in the series, the team headed to Sydney to avoid a whitewash and led by a superb spell from Jasprit Bumrah and an even better hundred from Manish Pandey, India managed to avoid the 5-0 scoreline.