By Annesha Ghosh:
After a 3-2 defeat to South Africa in the One-Day International series, courtesy a scintillating batting performance by the Proteas in the decider at the Wankhede Stadium on Sunday (25th October, 2015), critics are expected to unleash their swords, yet again, on India’s limited-overs captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni for everything that hasn’t gone right for the team so far.
What was touted to be a cracker of a finale, turned out to be a one-sided show of supremacy, abetted by some exceedingly ordinary bowling and sloppy fielding on the part of the Men in Blue. In the post-match press conference yesterday, a visibly unhappy Dhoni expressed his disappointment at the inconsistent runs of form put on display by his frontline pace bowlers throughout the course of the 5-match ODI series.”If you see any other nation, Test or ODI, the fast bowlers come and in one or two years, they graduate to the next level. They become their striker bowler. They know their strength and bowl according to it. We aren’t able to do that. Once you put in a lot of effort in an individual and if he doesn’t come good, then again a vacuum gets created where you are forced to look for individuals,” rued the Indian skipper.
Apart from lack of consistency amongst his available resources, particularly in Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Mohit Sharma, Dhoni’s woes as a captain have been compounded by injuries picked up by some of his most bankable players. While Mohammed Shami had to be ruled out much before the start of the series, a painful side-strain sustained by off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin — arguably India’s best bowler across all formats this year- during his second spell in the Kanpur ODI, further reduced Dhoni’s options, robbing the bowling attack of the little teeth it possessed.
In the run-up to the ODI series, much was talked about if Dhoni should promote himself up the order, given the element unreliability surrounding the middle-order that is now beginning to gather more currency in the mindspace of the followers of the game with each passing fixture. Following his innings of 92 not out that guided India to a 22-run victory in the second ODI at Indore, a seemingly relieved Dhoni had articulated this concern at the press conference: “Once I left Tests I thought now I want to enjoy my ODI cricket. I want to bat up the order but when I see my team, I find it very difficult to just promote myself. Who is going to bat at No 5, 6 and 7? I find it very difficult to put pressure on some of the youngsters in the team. After playing so many ODIs, if I can’t do it, then there are not many in the team who would do it. It’s something that I have to do.”
Shikhar Dhawan and Suresh Raina’s abysmal form, coupled with a general lack of consistency in the performances of star batsmen Rohit Sharma and vice-captain Virat Kohli ensured that the South-African bowlers could guide their team to a measly 5-run and 18-run victories in closely-contested games. Given that 5 out of 6 top and middle order batsmen in the Indian line-up have averaged under 50, as opposed to a 65-plus average by the South African trinity of de Kock, du Plessis and de Villiers, it would be incorrect to train the guns at the Indian captain on account of the generic unsatisfactory batting performance by the team and pin all the blame on him, now that the series has been concluded.
After the 2-1 series loss to Bangladesh earlier this year, and now, with the T20 and ODI series defeat at the hands of the mighty Proteas are far from being a purple patch for one of the finest finishers in world cricket and India’s most successful captain. Dhoni is far from finished.
Even when detractors came out all guns blazing at the 34-year old skipper, with former cricketer Ajit Agarkar insinuating that Dhoni has increasingly become “a liability” for the team and going on to question his place on the side following the T20 series defeat, Dhoni, staying true to his style, chose to let his bat do all the talking.
In what was panning out to be a collective catastrophe fuelled by the failure of the top-order in the Kanpur ODI, Dhoni’s aggressive, unbeaten knock of 92 gave India something to play for and subsequently helped register their first win ever since their first encounter against the visitors on October 2 in the Mahatma Gandhi- Nelson Mandela Freedom Series.
As has been the congenital propensity of the larger lot of Indian cricket fanatics, one may expect the whole of India to go for Dhoni’s blood one morning and yet the minute he plays a match-winning innings, he’s showered with praises galore. In an international career spanning more than 10 years, with over 12,000 runs to his credit, Mahendra Singh Dhoni has become an old hand in this game of bouquets and brickbats. Judging the merit of the man and the amount of cricket left in him solely by his recent run of performances can, therefore, by no means do justice to the contribution of the player and captain who has, in the past, led Indian cricket to the pinnacle of glory, winning the inaugural World t20 in 2007 and the 2011 World Cup; guided the team to the semi-final of the 2015 edition Down Under and also triumphed in the Champions Trophy in 2013.
Even as he begins to embark on his journey into the sunset, safeguarding the team’s interests bit by bit, one can expect Mahendra Singh Dhoni to continue answering his critics in his trademark fashion, breathing fire with his willow and taking the fight to the opposition, every time he walks out onto the cricket field.