Remember the Phantom? That masked crusader who lived in the woods and fought crime. Well, in the comics anyway. There were times, however, when ‘the ghost who walks’ would doff his superhero costume and walk the streets as an ordinary human. Again, according to Lee Falk, the man who’s responsible for bringing the Phantom to life.
Well it’s something like that whenever MS Dhoni loses his cool on the cricket field. For, most times he can seem almost superhuman, at least in terms of his ability to stay impassive even when the situation demands that he let some emotion show.
So when Dhoni literally refused to collect a throw from Mohammed Shami and subsequently berated him for not having moved into a finer position at fine-leg, it became an event. Like it always does when the inscrutable Indian captain vents it out uncharacteristically, like an ordinary human.
Here, Dhoni didn’t just shoulder arms to the Shami throw, he stood there demanding to know why his fast bowler hadn’t moved over to his designated position to stop Jos Buttler’s paddle-sweep, and thus leaked away two extra runs.
It’s been a tough tour for the Indian team, and especially for their captain. India were competitive in the Tests. But they’ve fallen apart in the ODIs, a format where they were expected to flourish.
The bowlers have hardly got their act right, and the batsmen have simply wilted under the unique challenges of playing short-form cricket in Australia. Dhoni’s had to face the brunt of it. And it’s led to a lot of uncertainty about both the team’s make-up as well as instrumental facets like batting positions. It’s been a tour where chances have presented themselves, but somehow Dhoni’s team have failed to make the most of them.
The lack of a competent lower-order, one that Dhoni has lamented about repeatedly, has meant the Indian captain has had to compromise on his natural instinct. It’s meant he’s had to curb his free-spirited approach to batting, and it’s not surprising that he’s gone over 20 matches without a single man-of-the-match award. It’s almost like he’s not certain anymore of when to put the foot on the accelerator, a skill that for long seemed second-nature to him.
It’s only natural that the cracks in his singular temperament have begun to emerge as the tour has waged on. As James Taylor and Jos Buttler led the rearguard, Dhoni often ended up with his hands on his hips unable to stem the flow that the two English right-handers had gotten going when the chips were down.
Strangely enough he’s been snarky off the field too at press conferences, especially in Perth. On Friday when asked about the reasons behind playing Mohit Sharma at the WACA, he went on the counterattack. “So who should have played?” he said. When probed further he added, “There has to be a reasoning, no?”
Dhoni also went on to complain about the jitteriness in the lower order, which has meant more responsibility. “With Bhuvi struggling a bit, it just puts that added pressure on the bowling line-up because frankly we can’t really afford to play with three fast bowlers and two spinners because our batting becomes just too light for it. If you lose the toss and you are batting on a surface that assists the fast bowlers, if you lose a couple of wickets, then you are just doing the catching up job,” explained Dhoni.
It’s safe to say that he’s as clueless about the make-up of the ODI team now as he was before leaving for Australia. And he doesn’t seem to be taking it too well with the World Cup just two weeks ago.