Dec 12, 2012

The Curious Case of Mahendra Singh Dhoni

I first witnessed Mahendra Singh Dhoni when he played for India A. Against a Pakistan A, coming in to bat at no 3 with his locks fluttering in the wind, blazing off to a hundred and guiding the team to victory almost single-handedly- I could see it would not be long until he does the same for the national team. Fast forward a few months, and he had cemented his place in the national team. A quickfire 183 against Sri Lanka and he was the one who everybody loved!

Fast forward a few more months. As he was blasting off in every form of the game, the veterans of Indian Cricket announced they would be skipping the T20 World Cup. Naturally, Dhoni was given the role and he went on to win the tournament- earning the title 'Captain Cool'. The eventual failure of Rahul Dravid meant Dhoni was given the ODI captaincy as well. With a small stint before retirement, Kumble took the reins in the Test format of the game, and did a pretty good job, until the captaincy was given to the obvious choice- Dhoni. This was in November 2008.

He was then responsible for the removal the 'old guard' from the ODIs requesting the removal of Ganguly and Dravid from the ODI squad- each of them really close to my heart, and perhaps that's the point where I lost my respect for the man. Dravid had already been the backbone of the team, and Ganguly had just come off the best year of his playing career! Although it was a decision keeping in mind the future, a sudden axe is never the solution. A successful team is that with the right mix of youth and experience. Now that Dhoni is 31, I wonder what his reaction would be in case he is axed! The eventual result of the world cup was exactly what was desired, but I wonder if it was due to this reason. My feelings for Dhoni can be described in the graph below.

Dhoni led the Chennai Super Kings to IPL glory twice, a team which I hated, probably for Krishnamachari Srikanth, the then head of the selection committed and indeed responsible for the removal of the aforementioned players. True that he led India to World Cup glory in home soil, whitewashed the Aussies in a test series after decades of Aussie dominance, led India to the top ranking in Test Cricket, but one can't avoid thinking that somehow, somewhere, the core of the team, including himself, was developed by the last important skipper- Ganguly, except the T20 World Cup victory, which I still believe, was his moment of sheer brilliance.

He has never been truly fantastic in Tests, the Pakistan tour of India in 2007-08 starting a vicious cycle. He never seemed willing to score freely in Tests, and ended up being a shadow of his true limited over self. However, what I (and perhaps, most others) have realized over the years is that he was probably never meant for tests. Test players are different altogether. With just one man of the match performance in his whole test career, and 5 centuries in 70 tests, I wonder how long the selectors are going to put their faith in him.

I understand losing matches on foreign soil, with hardly a few cases of draws, let alone series wins. However, such a plight on home soil is unacceptable. He has been averaging below 20, as the team trails 2-1 in the ongoing Test series against England. Is it the right time to quit? What excuse does he want to come up with this time?

Although as people grow old, they retire from the limited overs cricket to concentrate more on Tests, there are examples which suggest otherwise. Sanath Jayasuriya, who retired from Tests to concentrate on ODIs and T20s, played top level cricket for the national team as well as Mumbai Indians, even in his forties. Michael Bevan, the player with the highest average in ODIs was never successful in Tests. Perhaps, Mahendra Singh Dhoni is such a player who is suited only for the limited overs format, but it Dhoni himself, who can decide on the fact.

Who would not want a farewell like Steve Waugh or Ricky Ponting, but you have got to earn it, don't you? Dhoni (hopefully) deserves such a farewell, but it is actually in his own hands to screw it up.

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