We receive repeated intimations of our own fallibility
- Mike Brearley, one of England’s greatest skippers, on being a captain.
Over the course of the Test tours of England and Australia, Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s inbox must have been flooded with such intimations. His batting was viewed as irresponsible – remember that shot against England in the second Test at Nottingham and his captaincy was defensive – the fields were all wrong, it was reactive; not enough imagination or verve. Even his luck seemed to run out. In no uncertain terms, he had hit rock-bottom.
But he survived. He had a few matches coming up at home and he knew that victory in them would start the rehabilitation process of Indian cricket. The 2-0 win in the Test series against New Zealand is part of that rehabilitation; just part of it because it will only be complete when India manages to defeat England and Australia, who tour later in the year.
The wins against New Zealand also made Dhoni, with 14 wins, the most successful India captain at home, eclipsing Mohammad Azharuddin's record of 13 wins in India.
But is Dhoni’s record really cause for cheer or does it in fact showcase a lack of ambition? He has captained India in 20 matches at home, winnings 14 and losing just one, five matches were drawn.
Immediately after the win, Dhoni didn’t resist taking a pot shot at the curator of the Bangalore wicket.
“One definite area where we would like ourselves is playing on tracks that turn. That’s something we didn’t get in the series,” said Dhoni.
Spinning tracks is where India is at its best and the opposition isn’t. So in a sense, it’s logical for him to ask for that. But there is the reverse effect as well – once India go abroad, the batsmen struggle badly.
But asking for spinning tracks – even though India’s spinners R Ashwin (18) and Pragyan Ojha (13) – accounted for 31 wickets between them is a decision that reeks of self-doubt. You want your bowlers to bowl well and you want to pay back England and Australia in kind – but does Dhoni have no confidence that his team can win if the pitch isn’t doctored completely in favour of the home side?
A captain’s primary responsibility is to help his team improve. Will such a move help India? It might – in the short term but in the long term, it spells disaster. Pampered at home, inept abroad… is Dhoni looking that far into the future? Shouldn’t he be?
Dhoni’s overall record as skipper is 39 matches, 19 wins, 10 losses, 10 draws. Of the 39 matches, 19 matches were played ‘away.’ His record outside India is 5 wins – against New Zealand, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, South Africa, West Indies, 9 lost, 5 drawn.
Just for a moment, move away from Dhoni and focus on another of India’s great captains, Sourav Ganguly. Now, Ganguly has the third best record at home with 10 wins in 21 matches played at home. But it is his away record that earns him his fame – 28 matches, 11 wins, 10 losses, 7 draws. Here was a captain, who might have run away from the odd green pitch, but he knew what was best for his team.
Ganguly has always maintained that a captain's true test is to guide his team to victories outside their comfort zone. Dhoni has failed to do that and for the moment, it doesn't seem like he wants to improve on that.
Ganguly was ready to make his team-mates push their limits. Dhoni, on the other hand, seems to have clearly decided the limits of his players. And that just isn’t right. It can’t be that hard to imagine Virat Kohli, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar, Cheteshwar Pujara, R Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha, Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav winning fair and square against Australia and England... can it?