No captain could hope to survive as debilitating successive losses as MS Dhoni has done in England and Australia in a span of nine months and yet,if anything,emerge stronger.
Dhoni has lost seven successive overseas Tests in which four losses have been by an innings,one by over 300 runs,and the remaining two by 196 and 122 runs.
His own form with the bat has hardly been the redeeming feature. In England,it was 220 runs from eight innings at 31.43 and in Australia,it was 102 runs at 20.42 from three Tests and six innings.
Technically,the ignominy of ‘whitewash’ in Australia was shared between him and Virender Sehwag who filled up for him in Adelaide due to a ban on account of slow over-rates. It’s difficult to foresee though if the result would have been any different had Dhoni been around.
Yet Indian cricket’s strongman continues to flourish – – mainly due to his past achievements which include two World Cup titles and numerous firsts,including a one-day series won in Australia,and to a lesser extent because no real successor is at hands to replace him at the helm.
When Mohammed Azharuddin lost his captaincy in the summer of 1996,due to series loss in England,Sachin Tendulkar was at hand to be bestowed the honour and not an eyebrow was raised.
Sourav Ganguly’s magnificent achievements abroad mattered little when coach Greg Chappell crossed his path in 2005 and prevailed.
Kapil Dev lost his captaincy most abruptly after India lost in the semi-finals of the 1987 World Cup in India. His predecessor Sunny Gavaskar lost his own after a debilitating 3-0 series loss in Pakistan in early 80s.
Internationally too,few captains have survived such humiliating losses. Ricky Ponting stepped down from captaincy after Australia lost the 2011 World Cup having won the two previous editions under his leadership. Ponting himself got the one-day leadership in early 2000 at the expense of Steve Waugh who was the man-mountain of Australian cricket at his peak.
Viv Richards wasn’t beaten once in any series as captain and won 27 of his 50 Tests. Yet,he was nudged into retirement and Richie Richardson was asked to replace him.
In Pakistan,captains are replaced at a mind-boggling regularity. Any series loss spells the end of captaincy for the man at helm. In the 90s,it regularly floated between Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis.
And so has been the case in England. Michael Vaughan won England the Ashes in 2005,led for five years during which he captained in 52 Tests and won half of them.
Yet he first lost his ODI captaincy to Paul Collingwood and was later replaced with Kevin Pietersen in Tests. He tearfully resigned from captaincy in 2008.
South Africa prefers captains for longer durations. So Hansie Cronje led the nation in 53 Tests and Graeme Smith has already been at helm for 83 Tests. However,they too never suffered reverses like Dhoni did in the last one year.
Former Australian captain Steve Waugh is inclined to believe Ganguly was a better captain than Dhoni. He believed Ganguly instilled a sense of self-confidence in the team and had a never-say-die attitude.
Under him,the team never gave up and had the hardness of steel. Dhoni,on the other hand,is cool while he needed to be aggressive in Australian conditions like Ganguly was.
The midas touch of Dhoni,it appears,would continue as long as he wants since India doesn’t tour overseas for the next two years and captaincy aspirants,Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir,have fallen by the wayside.
Dhoni believes “captaincy is not something you could cling to; you don’t have a right to it and it’s a responsibility to be managed with the best of your ability.”
He also has stated his willingness “to step aside if there is someone who could do a better job than him.”