India have been unceremoniously bounced out of yet another Twenty20 world cup and there is a lot of blame going around and most of it is gonna be at the feet of India’s captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Being the captain of Indian cricket team is one of the hardest jobs in sports, as the Indian media and fans deal only in extremes – in praise and in condemnation.The demands of the job have consumed some of the best players the game as seen, from Sunil Gavaskar to Sachin Tendulkar, and from Kapil Dev to Rahul Dravid. Now, MS Dhoni is getting a taste of it.
When Dhoni took over the captaincy of the Twenty20 team in 2007, because the senior players had made themselves unavailable, he led a team of mostly young, still fresh on the international scene players to a world cup win. Within a year of that victory, he had become the captain of the Indian team in all 3 formats of the game and has done a wonderful job of it. He has beaten Australia in a test series, in a ODI tournament (in Australia), drew a test series against South Africa and beaten the daylights out of a Sri Lanka team etc., and all this while being named the best ODI cricketer in the world. He has not let the burden of captaincy affect his form with the bat or the gloves, unlike say, Tendulkar. The ignominious exit from the T20, for the second time in a row, without winning a game in the super 8 stage, is bound to open a can of worms. The fact that the team got exposed to short-pitched bowling for the 2nd consecutive year also doesn’t help. I have already read some opinions and conspiracy theories pointing fingers at MS Dhoni.
He manipulates the batting order so that he can score his runs and maintain a good batting average. He has an ongoing feud with Sehwag and that’s why Sehwag made himself unavailable for this tournament. He cares not for his country but only for the millions from his franchise.
These are baseless accusations and serve no good purpose. These are bandied about by some misguided (albeit passionate) fans. Of course, the media in India flames the fire as sensational “news” gets them eyeballs. Its similar to in 2003, when India barely managed to beat Netherlands and got whupped by Australia in their 2nd game of the world cup tournament in South Africa, some people threw stones at Rahul Dravid’s family house, cow dung on their cars etc., which is ridiculous. But then, the team got on a run, beating all comers but eventually got outclassed by Australia (again) in the finals. I don’t think the stone throwing was the motivation for the players, in fact it has the opposite effect. Now, they are worried for their family’s safety when the only thing they should be focused on is cricket.
When asked about playing in one of the many pressure games that Dhoni has led India in, he responded, “Every game we play for India, is a high pressure game. It does not matter who the opposition is, or what bearing the outcome of the game has. We have passionate fans in India and we try to do our best to play to their expectations.” MS Dhoni has displayed an outstanding acumen as a captain and a remarkable ability to think on his feet, to have a substantial effect on the game’s result. He has been able to handle all the accolades that have come his way with ease and has carried the crown of thorns quite handsomely, so far. He has been “captain cool” on and off the field.
Its actually quite easy to see in online forums where they claim Dhoni just gets lucky with some of the moves he makes on the field. If anyone has ever played the game at any decent level, they should know that it takes a a lot of mental fortitude to be a captain. Its having the conviction in your thought process to follow through with it, knowing fully that if things don’t pan out, you are going to be second-guessed by armchair experts all across the cricket mad nation. For this remarkable quality the he so naturally possesses, I admire Dhoni. He has shown over the years he has a clear thinking cricketing brain and treat the game for what it is. A game. Never too high, Never too low.
However, some of the decisions that have been taken by him and the team management do open the doors for questioning. The decision to bat second after winning the toss against both Australia and West Indies is still baffling! In the crucial “must win to have any hopes of semifinal” today, when net run rate was gonna be the decider, he opted to bat first. These defied conventional logic.
The stubbornness to stick with Ravindra Jadeja for another game after he was shellacked by Australia is quite puzzling. The roles of some of the key players such as Yuvraj and YK Pathan were not very defined. Were they supposed to tee-off right away? When it was realized Indian top order couldn’t just “pull” their way out of trouble, why was there more direction from the captain and coach to tell them to just ride it out and then plunder the runs in the last 10 overs, while keeping wickets in hand?
It has become quite obvious that the main reason behind the recent failure begins with the composition of the team. The selection committee was caught wrong-footed in thinking that ALL the pitches in WI were gonna be slow and low, hence the side packed with power hitters and spinners and part-time spinning all rounders. This was rudely exposed in the ONLY bouncy pitch left in the Caribbean. Another big reason is that the Indian team members, although playing in the IPL for different franchises, did not get together till only 3 days before the start of the world cup. This does not allow for any gelling of the group and defining the roles of players. I am not making this as an excuse, since the schedules were known well in advance, the team management needed to have a plan in place for that.
Let’s see. The team scored 130+ against Australia, 150+ against WI, 180+ against South Africa and another 160+ against Sri Lanka. That seems like a pretty decent batting performance (although the Aus game involved a top order collapse and only Rohit Sharma more than 30). So, the bowlers have had a huge role to play in this failure. They have let SA score 170+, Aus 180+, WI 160+ and SL 160+. The fact that we did not have bowlers who could exploit the bounce in the pitch in Barbados was sad to see. Ishant Sharma, Where art thou? It didn’t help that couple of crucial catches were put down too!
The knives are out for MS Dhoni. But he is one of the very, very rare breed of captains that do not let things outside the lines affect him. India is actually fortuitous that they lucked in to him taking the captaincy in 2007. Instead of just bashing him on this reverse, it will be prudent to actually hold the opinions back and get to the root of the problem, the lack of quality players in the ranks of the up-and-comers!