Very early in the post-match press conference, MS Dhoni, who has now suffered 13 overseas losses in the last three years, was asked the inevitable question. Will you quit as India’s Test captain? Dhoni replied with a counter query, refering to India’s 0-4 drubbing at the hands of England three years ago. “Didn’t you ask me the same question in 2011?” And after that, in the truly cryptic Dhoni style, he would add, “You will have to wait and watch, if I am strong enough or if I am not strong enough, you will get the news.”
Dhoni’s mental toughness can’t be undermined. Maybe he still has it in him to continue leading the team that clearly lacks Test temperament to last a five-match series abroad. But will the national selectors continue to back the frequently losing skipper? They just might, since there seems to be no real alternative. Indian cricket’s heir apparent, Virat Kohli, is presently dealing with the biggest crisis of his career. His Test average during this England tour dropped from 46 to 39.
Dhoni agreed that the collective failure of the top-order had resulted in humiliation. Still, he refused to give up on his players. “Everybody was eager to keep performing. The overseas performance means a lot. But once the batting began to slide a bit it has become tough for them to cope because not many of them have played more than 15 or 20 Test matches and may be 8 or 10 outside the sub-continent,” said Dhoni.
“The last two Test series consisted of two matches and not many of them have played a five-match series,” he said. Interestingly, he didn’t blame the IPL for India’s poor results abroad. “Ask the BCCI about that.” And this was followed by another Dhoni touch: “Don’t get jealous of IPL.”
Criticised by experts for his captaincy and lack of effective ideas, Dhoni said he was still very much a work in progress. “Whatever strategies I have learned in this series I tried to implement in this series. As a skipper, when you try to manipulate the field you need to see the strengths of the fast bowlers. Our bowlers are different from English bowlers, who keep hitting the same areas,” he said.
But what about his own batting? Does he think he has improved on this tour? Yes, said Dhoni. “I have been working on something from November and it was only close to Manchester that I actually implemented it in a game. I was comfortable doing it in practice sessions, but didn’t have the confidence to try it in a game. So you don’t know how much time it takes, in two months it will be fine or in two days it will be perfect,” he added.
When asked if county cricket was better than playing IPL to improve India’s batting record abroad, he said: “There are only a few players who can play that. The others will be busy with other cricket. If you see the calendar we play from January till December. There will be a few players who will be definitely playing Test cricket and if they have some time and if they get a good contract then they can definitely come and play, especially batsmen.
“Unless you come and play over here it is very difficult to keep practicing on the outside and think it will help. It is important to spend some time over here and it will definitely help. So this is definitely something we can look into but it will be difficult to fit it in.”
Sure, since the Indians move straight into the Champions League after the ODI series here.