India in Sri Lanka 2010 August 9, 2010

Defensive captaincy a disappointment

With the exception of the drab draw at SSC, the recently concluded Test series did produce some high-quality cricket

With the exception of the drab draw at SSC, the recently concluded Test series did produce some high-quality cricket: Murali weaving his magic at Galle, Malinga constantly making the ball talk, Sehwag taking the attack to the opposition, Sachin's resilience and Laxman's gritty match-winning innings, to name a few. While these exhibitions would keep the critics at bay for a while, another aspect of the game, hitherto of no great concern, has sprung up to be a potential alarm for both sides. It was the quality of leadership, or the lack of it, from both Dhoni and Sanga, which left a lot to be desired.

Let's go backwards. While it was an exceptional knock from Laxman, which sealed the day for the Indians, Sanga's tactics were baffling to say the least. He started the day with four men on the fence even when Ishant was on strike. Then he made the culpable error of having both long-on and long-off on the fence for Laxman, early on in his innings, knowing rather well that Laxman rarely takes the aerial route. Laxman obliged by rotating strike with ease to find his groove. And then how could you explain not having a slip for Mendis when only wickets could win you the match? These were only a few of the many such glaring errors he made throughout the series.

If Sangakkara bungled up, Dhoni too was in the wrong for being too defensive. Yes, he was impaired in the bowling department but that's exactly when you need to take the initiative. For a good captain can make an ordinary line-up efficient. Instead of taking the gamble of playing one extra bowler, he took the safer option. Then we repeatedly saw field placements for bad balls. Or else, how could you explain a deep point in the first over of the Test match? How could you explain not having a single slip in place when the Sri Lankans needed only a handful of runs to win the first Test match? And so on.

The real test of a captain's leadership skills is to lead a depleted unit. Steve Waugh didn't have to be imaginative with regards to fielding positions and bowling changes whenever he needed a breakthrough. All he needed to do was to throw the ball towards either Warne or McGrath or perhaps both in tandem. But when you have to deal with the likes of Mithun, Ishant and Ojha, you need to make them look more effective than they may be on a particular day by employing different strategies along with some smart field positions. A good captain, contrary to popular belief, is not as good as his team but the one who makes the team punch above its weight.

Dhoni's USP, until now, has been to think out-of-the-box and his willingness to punt. For me, the defining moment in Dhoni's captaincy was when he put his money on rookie Joginder Sharma and picked him to bowl the last over of the World Twenty20 in 2007. And voila, it paid off!

Captaincy is a lot about instinct and having the guts to go with the feeling. Dhoni showed both, and in heaps, but if he abandons it for safety, which he seems to be doing, he would cease to be the maverick of a captain we all believe that he is.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

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  • testli5504537 on August 16, 2010, 4:10 GMT

    true that sanga was defensive, but he had to be so considering the dropped chances which restricted them further. it was quite uncharacteristic of him in the last test match. dhoni is not lacking in innovation or leadership but lacking in good bowlers of international quality.

  • testli5504537 on August 10, 2010, 19:42 GMT

    It is true that Sankagara's tactics raised a lot of eyebrows during this tour. But Dhoni some how has been lacking in innovative and bold moves for quite a while now. Somehow one gets the feeling that we see a jaded Dhoni in leadership, keeping and batting too. He has to reinvent himself if India is to lift the world cup.

  • testli5504537 on August 10, 2010, 8:34 GMT

    Rightly said ,this displays how defensively all the three tests were played, you rarely see this defensive setup of field placements when you rely to win only by taking wickets. Bit Surprising really.

  • testli5504537 on August 10, 2010, 7:23 GMT

    I totally agree with you. A good Captain should inspire his team to perform above themselves either by motivating or with some smart tactics. Dhoni has to improve a lot at least as far as captaining in Test Matches are concerned, where captain has a big role to play.

  • testli5504537 on August 10, 2010, 6:35 GMT

    Again well analysed by Aakash,Though I tend to disagree somewhat,There is an old saying,"Athin line divides bravery and stupidity"By lunch on the 4th day,it was apparent that India sorely missed a Zaheer,Suddenly,the ball went old,Ojha and Mishra did not look penetrative and Sehwag was easy for a Samaraweera and even Mendis to play.I think it was just grit from Tendulkar,and the brilliance of a Lakshman,that India have to be thankful for.Sangakara like most Lankan captains is so used to the magic of Murali,that it will take him time to build an attack.He must have thought that like his own batsmen did the Indians would be "brave"and attempt the big shots.His tactics had they paid off would have earned him praise.He does have this "superior to the rest" attitude.Its ok to flaunt it against the Ausies or even the S.Africans.But the man is intelligent,he will mature.Dhoni,is someone who learns.He too will have to manage with a new bowling attack and some gaping holes in the batting.

  • testli5504537 on August 9, 2010, 20:56 GMT

    Generally agree strongly with what you have written here Mr Chopra. Captaincy is getting awfully defensive. Deep point in the first over is stupid. Having a 8-1 or even 7-2 field is also poor cricket to me.

    But I must disagree about Dhoni's defining moment as you see it. He really had no choice but to bowl Joginder in that match. He'd bowled out his main cards RP Singh and Sree in the 2 prior overs because he hoped to bowl Pakistan out and not need a last over or have a final over where a big amount was needed. His only other choice apart from Joginder for that final over was Harbhajan (or Yusuf Pathan I guess) but only 3 overs before Misbah had hit Harbhajan for 3 sixes in an over. That would have been the braver call - going with Harbhajan again.

  • testli5504537 on August 9, 2010, 16:37 GMT

    Aakash, in reference to ur " the defining moment in Dhoni’s captaincy was when he put his money on rookie Joginder Sharma.... ", i would say that Dhoni just didn't have any option to bowl that final over. Harbhajan was hit for 3 sixes, so he wasn't an option. A lot has been said about Dhoni's "brave" decision but the fact was there was no other option available to bowl the final over. Dhoni has never been an innovative captain, never used any different field positions or has never taken inspiring decisions. Agreed he tends to keep his head in pressure situations but that alone doesn't make a brilliant captain. He has really been lucky though. The very decision to make him the captain was questionable then, it has paid rich dividends nevertheless. Today, i feel, he's a part of the T20 as well as the test team just because he's the captain. Dinesh Karthick is better of in both d formats. MSD, however has been consistent in ODI'S n deserves his place..

  • testli5504537 on August 9, 2010, 14:18 GMT

    "For me, the defining moment in Dhoni’s captaincy was when he put his money on rookie Joginder Sharma and picked him to bowl the last over of the World Twenty20 in 2007. And voila, it paid off! "

    had Misbah ul Haq hit that last gentle full toss from Sharma straight instead of trying the cheeky scoop shot, Dhoni's captaincy would've looked slightly less "defining".

    and whatever happened to Joginder Sharma since that world cup ?

  • testli5504537 on August 9, 2010, 12:51 GMT

    Dear Akash Your elite views and assessments are spot on. Sangakkara's defensive tactics were questioned by even Jayasuriya too--Normally to average public, captain of the winning side does everything right I wish you included the tactical blunders of Dhoni on the penultimate day of the First test. If after Dravid's unexpected fall after good stand with Sachin Dhoni should have sent a night watchman like Ishant or Mithun rest of main batsman could have easily seen through the last day to a draw and different end to the series Instead one batsman after other were sent to the rampaging Malinga and murali leaving none to fight the last day Also for a captain who is hailed brainy to allow last three Lankan batsman to enhance the lead by another precious 150 runs belies any logic or tactical acumen It is basically defensive mindset by both captains even before the start of the series that has led to glaring errors My compliments again for your objective and unbiased assessment

  • testli5504537 on August 9, 2010, 11:08 GMT

    Every captain has his own way of dealing with different situations.

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