The 4-0 drubbing India received in England last year is still fresh in the minds of those who follow cricket. More importantly, it is also fresh in the minds of those who govern the game in India.
As the media hypes the ‘revenge factor’ of the series against England, pressure to deliver increases on Team India and skipper MS Dhoni.
Questions over the opening pair — Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir – are obviously there. Many also see this as Harbhajan Singh‘s last lifeline and Sachin Tendulkar’s chance to put his critics to rest. But even though it’s not out in the open, there is one more man whose position may be at stake when India take to the pitch.
MS Dhoni — the man who seems to have lost the Midas touch, is as vulnerable, if not more than the rest of his teammates.
Cricket expert Ayaz Memon concurs: “We all know that Sehwag has been out of form, Gambhir has been iffy, Zaheer Khan has been injury-prone, people have been debating about Harbhajan, Yuvraj Singh – if he’s fit enough to play a five-day game – and Sachin Tendulkar at the fag end of his career — if he is as good or not — all sort of questions hang over the series. But, not many questions have been raised about Dhoni and I think he is in the most vulnerable position.”
Like in so many other games, someone has to take the fall. If it’s the manager or the coach who goes in football, it’s the captain who’s usually axed in cricket.
“If he loses the series, he could lose his captaincy and if he loses his captaincy it becomes very difficult for him to hold his place in the team,” says Ayaz about India’s wicket-keeper batsman.
Dhoni, once applauded for in unorthodox captaincy and interesting tactics, seems to have lost the uncertainty which flummoxed opposition teams. Even though Ayaz agrees that he’s gone through plateauing, he feels that results in the last 15 months have played against him.
“He took team India to the zenith of cricket. There was a time he could do no wrong but since the last 15 months he has got nothing right. Both are extreme positions but the truth lies somewhere in between. The problem is that he hasn’t been able to forge a team which can win or draw matches overseas. Sport is cruel and it’s ultimately the results which matter.”
If you look at the numbers, Dhoni has scored 256 Test runs in 2012, which is 2nd best for any Indian batsman. Virat Kohli is first with a mammoth 501 runs and Tendulkar is 4th on 245. But the catch is that in matches which India lost or drew, Dhoni managed only 73 runs, out of which 57 runs came from a single innings.
Meanwhile, Tendulkar, in matches lost or drawn still scored at an average of 30. This clearly means Dhoni isn’t stepping up to the plate when it matters most.
But Ayaz doesn’t believe it’s the runs that matter: “You don’t expect him to lead a match-winning charge at no.7 in a Test. It’s about his captaincy— which he hasn’t forgotten overnight. It may be that other teams have studied his patterns and are trying to checkmate him. But ultimately a captain has to be worth his place in the team and win matches. And the fall from no.1 Test team to no.5 is a dramatic and rapid one. Unless he arrests this or has a magnificent series, his is a very vulnerable position.”
There was certainly a time when Dhoni could inspire stunning performances from the team but more recently, it has all been about murmurs from the camp of rifts and cracks in the team.
Ayaz compares the current situation in the Indian team as always trying to plug the gaps: “The captain has to extract the best of his teammates and those who aren’t responding need to be shown the door. He has to have the clout to that. You cannot have a band-aid situation always — you have a gash and you put a band-aid. It may be pretty and political, but it doesn’t pay back.”
Watch the video for the full conversation between Pulasta Dhar and Ayaz Memon.
Here is Ayaz Memon’s starting XI for the Ahmedabad Test (send us your in the comments section too): Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Cheteshwar Pujara, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni, R Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, Pragyan Ojha and Umesh Yadav.