In the last couple of years, Dhoni in Test cricket and Dhoni in the shorter versions of the game have looked like two different people. In Test cricket, he looks lost and disinterested, clearly giving the impression that he does not enjoy the longer version of the game. And that reflects in his poor strategies, right from team selection to the kind of pitches he demands and finally to the way he uses his bowlers. His batting is of the level of a tailender trying hard to just block the ball from hitting the stumps.
This is particularly baffling considering that Dhoni had made it to the team specifically as a wicket-keeper batsman and if one goes by his early batting exploits, he could well have been called a batsman-keeper. But yes, at no point in his career, not even at its highest peak was Dhoni considered the best keeper in the country. Besides, no longer is he the cool street-smart operator that he used to be. Instead, his obstinacy lately borders on frustration.
But come ODIs and T20s and Dhoni is a different player. He is still more innovative with strategies, a better batsman and more in control of the game.
This dichotomy here thus leaves me wondering – was Dhoni never meant for Test cricket? Well, if you go purely by statistics, yes Dhoni has won more Test matches as captain than any other Indian captain. But his record in the last one and half years has been pathetic. To lose to Australia and England 0-4 each within a span of months is certainly inexcusable. That was of course followed up with a shameful defeat to England on tailor-made Indian wickets. Moreover his batting average of 38 as against the ODI batting average of 51, tells a sad story indeed.
Besides, Dhoni isn’t the best man-manager anymore, what with him having problems with at least half the team members at some point of time or the other.
So what’s the solution here? Should Dhoni be replaced as captain?
Well, in my opinion, Dhoni as a Test player is worse than Dhoni as captain. I would blame his inability to apply himself to the longer version of the game to the sheer volume of cricket he has played in the last eight years, including of course his stakes as CSK skipper.
Dhoni needs to make a difficult choice here. He needs to quit Test cricket to prolong his career in the shorter versions of the game, to which he really belongs. Besides, with the amount that Dhoni has achieved, he ought to take a more holistic, unselfish view of the situation. By continuing in Test cricket, he is depriving a more deserving player like Wriddhiman Saha his rightful place in the side.
A wicket-keeper’s slot in the side invariably tends to be shaky. If a player continues to block that slot, merely by virtue of him being the side’s captain, it often robs a whole generation of the opportunities they deserve.
In any case I have a hunch that if Dhoni’s responsibilities are restricted to the ODIs and T20s, they’d help him focus better and perhaps revive the old Dhoni whom we all adored. Right now, with his responsibilities scattered all around, there’s very little focus and the results are there for everybody to see.
Dhoni needs to sit back and review the last eight years. I would want to see him lead India not only in the World Cup of 2015, but also 2019. That is possible, provided he takes a tough call and quits Test cricket right away.