Having made his ODI debut for India in December 2004, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Mahi as he is fondly known, never looked back. The only thing he knew was pushing Indian cricket to greater heights. His proud triple of winning the T20 world cup, ODI world cup and the ICC Champions Trophy, as well as taking India to the top of Test table, will likely never be surpassed.
His abrupt quitting of Test cricket after making 90 appearances for India has certainly not gone down well with cricket enthusiasts and pundits. First of all, he announced his retirement in the midst of a series. Secondly, this has happened outside India and leaves a sinking ship with India being drubbed 2-0 by Australia with one to go. His joining the squad from the second Test onwards clearly indicates he had no intention to quit now, especially before the series ended. This means it took only two games to end the Test career of India’s most successful Test captain in terms of wins. The hottest seat in world cricket has taken its toll.
Though India’s most successful captain, Dhoni was never aggressive and was rightly known as captain cool. Despite his success, India’s success in Tests ended after the 2011 world cup. India’s most successful Test captain has been the country’s biggest failure abroad, too.
As a skipper, his 30 overseas Tests resulted in only six wins. India claimed 21 wins from his 30 home Tests. Although he has won a series each against New Zealand and West Indies away, he led in the shameful 4-0 losses against England and Australia in 2011-12 and lost to New Zealand and South Africa as well.
Whilst he has lost only three Tests at home, his 15 losses abroad reaffirm the perception that he was at a loss as a captain outside India. It is four years since India won a Test series abroad under Dhoni’s captaincy.
Added to these, the surprising 1-2 reverse against England in 2012 at home was one of the worst home performances by India for many a year. Dhoni set his own trap by asking for spinning tracks which were well exploited by Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar for England and exposed the Indian batsmen’s own inability on turning tracks. Dhoni came under attack from all quarters.
This was England’s first Test series win in India for 28 years. It also ended India’s decade long unbeaten run at home. India had been expected to avenge their 4-0 drubbing at England’s hands from the previous year.
Though he is adored for his ODI approach, it was a different ball game for him when it came to Tests. He was never aggressive, playing it safe always. He played for draws rather than wins, ultimately leading to losses where many a time, defeat was been snatched from the jaws of victory. His home wins were mainly due to his batsmen’s confidence on flat wickets which gave enough of a cushion to his spinners to bowl out the opposition twice, most of whom have struggled to play spin even on flat wickets.
Having played 90 Tests for India, scoring 4,876 runs with six centuries and 294 dismissals behind the stumps to his credit, Dhoni stumped every Indian and the cricketing world with his shock exit. Navjot Singh Sidhu and Lala Amarnath have left series overseas halfway through, but they were not captaining the side, unlike Dhoni.
Did he see his sacking coming? He was almost sacked previously, after the 8-0 overseas losing streak in 2011-12, only to be given a surprising reprieve by the BCCI. His last few years saw the exit of many seniors who had put India atop the cricketing world. These exits were keenly felt as almost all of them had illustrious reputations. Any side would miss the likes of VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar. Any side, too, would miss the likes of Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh.
Still, Dhoni’s sudden retirement has raised many eyebrows. What can be the reason? Is it his Test record abroad, or is it the impending IPL case judgement? Some say it is an injury scare before the world cup and for some, it is Virat Kohli’s growing stature and the recent Virat, Shikhar Dhawan dressing room spat. Kohli seems to have given confidence to everyone on his captaincy abilities now, especially after his heroics in the lost first Test at Adelaide in this series. Dhoni says Virat is ready now but why can’t Virat or Dhoni wait till this series is over; wait just one more Test?
With his recent poor run, Dhoni is certainly past his shelf life as a Test cricketer. The sands of time are inevitably shifting. By quitting abruptly, though, he hasn’t solved, but has created, a problem. Indian cricket is flummoxed, especially with the world cup just a month away. Can the BCCI guarantee Dhoni is in right frame of mind to defend the title?
The only thing India can and should do now is to wish their new skipper Kohli all the very best, and back him to the hilt!
By Venkat Balantrapu