Keep Dhoni as cap­tain un­til Sachin retires

DNA Sunday (Mumbai) - - BOOKS - C_ su­mit@ dnain­dia. net

The ODI se­ries with Pak­istan gets go­ing in Chen­nai on a some­what pi­quant note for the In­dian camp, with daily calls from a sec­tion of ex- crick­eters for MS Dhoni to be axed from Test cap­taincy. Since the sug­gested re­place­ments, Gautam Gambhir and Vi­rat Kohli, are key mem­bers of Dhoni’s ODI team, there will be more than the bat­tle with Pak­istan on ev­ery­one’s mind to­day. Ev­ery move by Dhoni will be dis­sected, and the per­for­mances of Gambhir and Kohli scru­ti­nised as the Aus­tralia se­ries looms. Hence the ODIs with tra­di­tional ri­vals Pak­istan, how­ever mouth­wa­ter­ing, are no more than an ap­pe­tiser for the main course ahead. That’s be­cause an ODI loss to Pak­istan counts for lit­tle com­pared to back- to- back Test se­ries losses at home, which would be a new low for In­dian cricket and may also take the sheen off the IPL sea­son to fol­low.

There can be no ar­gu­ment with the need to re­place Dhoni as Test cap­tain. We pointed out dur­ing the Mum­bai Test with Eng­land how he failed to use Yu­vraj Singh on a track where lef­t­arm spin­ners were rev­el­ling. Then there was the ap­palling fail­ure to make any changes for the next Test in Kolkata, which we pre­dicted would be dis­as­trous. And fi­nally, when a legspin­ner was drafted into the squad for the last Test, it was the wrong ‘ un ( par­don the pun). Piyush Chawla, a Dhoni favourite, was picked even though he has strug­gled to take wick­ets in the domestic sea­son, with just nine wick­ets at an av­er­age of over 40, whereas Amit Mishra has been three times more suc­cess­ful with both ball and bat. Dhoni’s de­fen­sive­ness and wrong bowl­ing op­tions at cru­cial times, which let the op­po­si­tion off the hook time and again in Tests since the World Cup, have also been doc­u­mented. So yes, he has to go — there can be no ar­gu­ment about that.

The prob­lem is that the ideal re­place­ment Vi­rat Kohli is def­i­nitely un­der­cooked for now. He is still earn­ing his spurs as a Test player. He had a cen­tury in Aus­tralia and a ter­rific cou­ple of Tests at home against the Ki­wis, then an aw­ful se­ries against Eng­land mit­i­gated only by a face- sav­ing ton in the fi­nal Test. It may be pre­ma­ture there­fore to put him at the helm when he has to con­cen­trate first on curb­ing his ODI in­stincts and be­com­ing a de­pend­able Test bat.

Graeme Smith was a success as a young cap­tain for South Africa, but by then he was well es­tab­lished as a Test bats­man. Be­sides, he was em­pow­ered to build his team, whereas the prime fo­cus dur­ing the forth­com­ing Aus­tralia se­ries will be on whether Sachin Ten­dulkar can have a last hur­rah. That would make it a far from ideal sce­nario for young Vi­rat to take over as cap­tain, and some­times one can never re­cover from a bad start.

If it is too early in the ris­ing graph of Kohli to be cap­tain, the other promis­ing can­di­date Gautam Gambhir dis­qual­i­fies him­self by ap­pear­ing to be over the hill al­ready. He has to worry about turn­ing his own bat­ting for­tunes around be­fore he can pay at­ten­tion to team lead­er­ship. And he too will be ham­strung by Ten­dulkar’s pres­ence, be­cause oth­er­wise he could per­suade his friend Viren­der Se­hwag to try out the all- im­por­tant No 4 po­si­tion so that Ajinkya Ra­hane can be tested as an opener — the Ra­hane- Gambhir combo looked pretty good against Pak­istan, even if it was only in the T20 for­mat.

The best op­tion, there­fore, may be to grit one’s teeth and carry on with Dhoni un­til the great man’s re­tire­ment al­lows a team to be cho­sen on the ba­sis of cur­rent form and not past records. Why not go the whole hog mean­while and make the Aus­tralia se­ries all about Ten­dulkar? Pre­pare dead wick­ets like the one in Nag­pur where no re­sult — and there­fore no em­bar­rass­ment — is pos­si­ble, and hope that Ten­dulkar knocks up a cou­ple of tons and calls it a day. It won’t make for great Test cricket, but will do as a stop­gap ar­range­ment. Such are the ab­sur­di­ties of In­dian cricket at the moment.

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