With no clear heir apparent around, asking for the resignation of MS Dhoni and the rest of the coaching staff is far from pragmatic. And it also lacks imagination. However, someone needs to put name tags on the decisions made on this disastrous tour and follow it up with an honest cricketing audit. Fingers will be pointed, excuses will be given and the blame will be passed around. But when all that is done behind closed doors it’ll be worth it.
The expected finding of the scrutiny could just be this: Dhoni doesn’t only need a pair of helping hands, he needs an authoritative, expressive and opinionated cricketing brain by his side. And it’s tempting to suggest that Team India needs a coach who isn’t afraid to crack the whip once in a while. Not Greg Chappell, of course, but someone in his mould. Someone who could imbibe all his rights and leave out the wrongs.
This series has shown that Dhoni can’t be trusted with the entire bunch of house keys when it comes to Test matches. He has too much on his plate, plus he seems to lack the bandwidth to understand a game that spreads over five days. He has proved to be a slow-learner when it comes to cricket’s most challenging format.
At Lord’s, with the experience of being at the helm for a little over five years, Dhoni the Test captain was finally born. That was his first away win without those legends of the game. His plan to ask Ishant Sharma to bowl short at the English batsmen, and his conviction to stick with the plan even when it didn’t work, took India to a historic win. After a long wait, the captain finally got a hang of leading in the longer version.
But then, in the midst of taking baby steps, he fumbled and fell. In a team without seniors he came across as the lone decision-maker with no real Group of Minsters. Not one for meetings and consultations, he took most calls independently — including setting the field for his bowlers. Stubbornly in some cases.
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Those around him say that there are times when no one on the field understands what is going on in his mind. Those curious field positions and unconventional bowling changes that were seen during the series weren’t worked out in the battle-room before a game or decided through consensus. It was an instinctive captain reacting to a situation. The pundits in the commentary box often got frustrated trying to understand Dhoni’s plans. Eventually, they all gave up. The 3-1 series verdict shows that the Indian captain wasn’t charting new course, but rather dragging his feet aimlessly towards a losing cause.
In England, those who’ve known India coach Duncan Fletcher see him as someone who loves to spend hours studying and explaining the angles that decide a cricket contest. They will vouch that Dhoni’s tactics couldn’t have been approved by the coach. “If Fletch had a say in things, he wouldn’t allow the leg-slip for so long. Nor would he allow the short-bowling ploy when it doesn’t work, despite the success at Lord’s,” said a commentator.
Wanted: Change at the top
Since India can’t afford to change their leader, they need to revamp their style of leadership. But first Dhoni and the BCCI need to acknowledge the problem. A more active coach and a less indulging BCCI set-up are a combination that Indian cricket desperately needs. Dhoni’s deep understanding of game played wearing coloured clothing and his famous association with world cricket’s most-powerful man N Srinivasan gives the 33-year old an aura of undisputable authority in the dressing room. But Dhoni doesn’t deserve that power when he wears white.
He might have mastered the shorter versions, but in Tests he is still very much learning the ropes. Only during this series — going by his confession — did Dhoni finally learn to bat against quality swing bowling. Maybe, with time he will one day understand Test captaincy too. Till then he needs to be mentored and treated like one of the boys. Having watched the Indian team closely for over a month-and-a-half now, it is evident Dhoni isn’t one.
Despite his wicketkeeping fumbles, fielding coach Trevor Penney — the man who hasn’t produced a half-decent slip fielder in his years with the side — never once indulged Dhoni in a rigorous, no-holds-barred catching session. India’s off-the-field activities too have Dhoni’s signature. Paint-ball, go-karting and football; these are activities that the captain loves. When he asked the rest to join in, they did of course. Follow the leader, they say.
The team’s training culture too has changed from the days when the obsessive nets-sessioners in Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman played. Because of the hectic schedule, Dhoni has always believed less in nets and more in optional training. But there cannot be an option when there are batsmen who are constantly struggling with technical issues and when Tests get over within seven sessions.
While dealing with insecurities, every member of an inexperienced side constantly needs reassurance and counseling. Does the captain, who is often described as aloof and unaffected, do it? There is an urgent need for change. Asking the BCCI to wield the axe is an overreaction. But it’s time someone found the good old whip. Now is the time to crack it.