Ex-New Zealand skipper Stephen Fleming backed under-fire Mahendra Singh Dhoni as still the best option to lead India in Tests notwithstanding the squad’s 1-3 defeat to England, saying it was pointless to make a change without addressing problems plaguing the team.
Fleming, who also coaches the Dhoni-led IPL team Chennai Super Kings, was of the view that there appeared to be no viable alternative to the flamboyant cricketer.
“It is fine just to say that the captain has to go, but if you are giving the problem to someone else without a strong solution then you are just papering over the problem,” he told reporters at an New Zealand Education event in Mumbai.
“But how far you go with that will be a Board decision. That comes down to what the succession plan is. Who is next in line, who is putting pressure on Dhoni?” asked the 41-year-old.
“He (Dhoni) may still be the man for the job but there might need to be some changes within and without. Those questions need to be asked rather than the emotional black and white (response) he has got to go,” said the former opener.
Dhoni’s captaincy has been criticised by several former cricketers following the team’s humiliating defeat in the five-game rubber and Fleming agreed the wicketkeeper-batsman was under pressure following the dismal result.
“He is got to be under pressure as the leader of the side. The dramatic turn of form (of team which led 1-0 and then lost the last three games without a fight) does warrant those questions. His form with the bat was good, but certainly the captain always gets looked at when the series goes wrong.
“I cannot speculate in terms of his place. What I can answer with my experience is that when your team is not playing well, you are under pressure as a captain. How far that pressure goes and how long it goes is an issue for your Board or decision-makers,” Fleming said.
“Maybe a Dhoni under pressure is still your best option. He has got the experience and I know he has got the respect of the dressing room – they are two pretty important ingredients. What you need is the results to go in your favour and then everything is right,” the veteran of over 100 Tests added.
Fleming was surprised at how quickly the fortunes of the two rival captains in the series – Dhoni and Alastair Cook – changed after India won the Lord’s game for a 1-0 lead.
“If you look at Cook at the start of the series you could say he was exactly under the same kind of pressure which Dhoni is now. For it to reverse so quickly is somewhat astonishing and that is what people are trying to get their heads around… how quickly the series has changed and quite rightly are asking for answers.”
Team’s chief coach Duncan Fletcher has also been under pressure and, in fact, has been superseded in the hierarchy by the appointment of ex-skipper Ravi Shastri as Team India Director for the ODI series (starting Aug 25) by BCCI.
But Fleming said blaming the coach was deflecting from the issue of players not performing well. “I think first and foremost the players played badly and in my experience there is only so much you can do as a coach. The real issue is that the Indian players played poorly in the last three Tests.”
He wondered whether there was some lack of communication in the team which, if true, they might have to work upon.
“If there are deeper issues at play, then it is upto the coach and captain and the man management and the team to get to it. The first point to make sure is that communication is strong between the captain, coach and the team.
“When you are under pressure, one of the first things that can be solved is communication. We know working in isolation or in a little group, you are achieving very little. When things are going well, you are bubbly and talkative and natural communication flows,” he said.
Fleming now expected the visitors to bounce back and put up a better show in the five-match ODI series.
“Knowing M S (Dhoni) and a number of those players, they would be pretty determined to turn it around. I would expect them to bounce back very well in the one-day series. But they do need to take lessons out of this passage.”
The New Zealander referred to changes made in the team’s coaching support staff after the Test series loss and said they, too, should be made aware of the lessons.
“There are new personnel, new people have replaced (the bowling and fielding coaches)…make sure that those lessons are also carried forward,” he said.
Looking ahead, Fleming said it was important for the Indian players to spend time in England and get acclimatised to the conditions in order to do well there.
“One of the challenges for any team to educate themselves when they go to England is to play a couple of games, get a few runs and bowl a little bit.
“But we all know India were not afforded any time, they are required around the world to do different things and they just can’t do that. It is a tough task,” Fleming said.
He hinted that some overconfidence in Indian ranks after the Lord’s victory coupled with the desperation of Cook and some of his senior teammates after that defeat might have contributed to the turnaround in the hosts’ fortunes.
“The other thing is how desperate England became after they lost the second Test. They had their captain and senior players under pressure and were absolutely determined to win. India were there to prove a point and did that and probably felt a bit comfortable and England, who were hurt, came back very strong,” the former left-handed opener said.
Looking at the few positives gained by India, Fleming said he was quite impressed at the way Murali Vijay applied himself to the job of an opener and the way Dhoni batted in what could be his last visit to England as a player.
“I was pleased with Vijay. He applied himself very well while leaving the ball. Dhoni probably batted well because of his last tour there. So you got to make the balance between sticking with players and looking for the next tour.”
Asked if there was a need to groom specialist Test players, he said it was a good idea.
“The thought about creating specialist Test players is an excellent one. A lot of countries are doing it, earmarking some players for one form and that is something India might need to consider.”
Fleming felt asking some players to keep out of a lucrative tournament like IPL and telling them to concentrate on the longest form of the game would not be easy as they need to be compensated in another way.
“The IPL is such a good competition to play, so there will have to be a pretty strong directive to keep them away. (Cheteshwar) Pujara and even Vijay are very talented players in the short form but keeping them out of it would enhance their Test game, probably.”
Fleming felt that key CSK player Suresh Raina was good enough to be in the Test side.
“I have been a big fan of Raina and I know he has had problems with the short ball but that too can be ironed out. He is one of those players in the next group if they are looking for people.”
Asked if he was open to the idea of coaching an international side, Fleming said, “not at the moment”.
“The way I see international coaching it is similar to playing, it is 12 months of the year. I still haven’t got it out of my system – the amount of travelling we did when we played and the things you give up at home.”