Everyone relax: Indian cricket isn't in crisis but MS Dhoni's captaincy needs a debate

Everybody needs to calm the **** down. Indian cricket is not in crisis.

The loss to Bangladesh hurts. Of course, it does. But if you seriously thought this day would never come, you don’t understand sport.

India were minnows once too. Former India captain Nari Contractor told me India were christened the “Dull Dogs of Cricket” after losing 5-0 away to England in 1959. A dozen years later, India beat England 1-0 in a three Test series in England. The wheel is supposed to turn.

Bangladesh is a side on the up and are playing with greater ferocity and self belief than ever before. They were on a high after sweeping Pakistan 3-0. They were playing at home. They outplayed and outthought India in every department. We should be giving them more credit.

Yes, India should not have not lost so tamely but we should have a little sympathy for the India players too. This is the same team that made the semi-finals of the 2015 World Cup just three months ago. The same team that won seven games in a row before losing to eventual champions Australia. They haven’t become a bad team in 90 days.

While none of them chose to opt out of the tour, fatigue was clearly evident even before India captain MS Dhoni explicitly said so after the second ODI. And we should be listening. India’s scheduling has become a player’s nightmare. There is simply no downtime for most of them. The only reason Virat was able to work on his batting after the England Test series in 2014 was because the Royal Challengers Bangalore did not qualify for the Champions League last year. Had they done so, Kohli probably doesn’t make four centuries in four Tests in Australia. He would still be nicking the new ball to slip.

 Everyone relax: Indian cricket isnt in crisis but MS Dhonis captaincy needs a debate

File photo of Mahendra Singh Dhoni. AP

Playing sport at the highest level is both physically and mentally exhausting. Body and mind need time to recover. If they don’t get it, performances will suffer. That is every bit as inevitable as death and taxes.

The IPL versus country debate is also a forced debate. Would anyone watch the IPL if India’s stars opted out? That’s a rhetorical question. You don’t need to answer it. The IPL is also Indian cricket’s cash cow and has made the sport a lucrative career option for hundreds more players than before. To expect players not to show up for it is to expect them to go against their own self interest.

Besides, it isn’t as if players weren’t fatigued in the IPL either. One look at how the Australians performed would tell you that.

The case of Dhoni’s captaincy is a harder one to tackle. Unlike in Tests, Dhoni has been a canny one-day captain, able to construct a controlled narrative within the limits of the 50-over game. It is where he is most at home and his record stands up against the best in the world.

But the cracks are clearly showing. As Ashish Magotra wrote yesterday for Firstpost, Dhoni inspires more questions than answers. At the post-match press conference on Sunday, India’s ODI captain said he never wanted the captaincy, that the responsibility was given to him but you could see that questions about his leadership rankled. Dhoni is normally able to laugh off the media but he was clearly feeling the strain this time.

He has looked so out of sorts on this tour that Bishen Singh Bedi, the great left-arm spinner, jokingly suggested Dhoni should take to yoga to find his bliss again.

And Chanchal Bhattacharya, Dhoni’s former coach, suggested all is not well in the Indian dressing room and that there is a lot of pressure on Dhoni, though he admitted he had not spoken to Dhoni about it.

Former India captain Sourav Ganguly said Dhoni’s comments about stepping down were made in the heat of the moment and that we should not take them seriously. “He was upset after the defeat. Leave it there. Everybody has to sit together and think. Don't put MS Dhoni down, he has a terrific record in One dayers. Give respect to him.”

Ganguly is right in so far as everyone needs to sit together and have a chat and that Dhoni’s record has earned him the benefit of the doubt. But Dhoni isn’t indispensable. Eventually, all captains are replaced. If Dhoni is feeling the pressure, and if there is a difference between the way the team wants to play and the way he wants the team to play, it might be wise to step aside and let Kohli take over.That would give Kohli plenty of time before the 2019 World Cup to get the team to play his way.

Dhoni’s form has also been trending downwards over the last two and a half years. In 2013, he averaged 62.75 from 20 innings with a strike-rate of 96.04. In 2015, he is averaging 39.88 from 11 innings with a strike-rate of 81.96. Still healthy numbers, to be sure, but not what he used to be.

Perhaps a lessening of responsibilities would revitalise Dhoni's batting and keeping. He would still be around to offer Kohli advice, much as Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid did for him after he took over as Test captain. It’s hard to see how that would hurt Indian cricket.

Updated Date: Jun 23, 2015 15:19:50 IST