'Won't run away from responsibility' - Dhoni
MS Dhoni has left his future as captain in the selectors' hands, but he has also said he won't run away from the responsibility.
"As a leader this is a challenge thrown at me," Dhoni said moments after India completed their first set of back-to-back home Test losses since 1999-2000. "It is always good to lead a side when you are performing well. That is not the time you need a leader. Leading a side is all about when the team is not doing well. To try to gel the team together. To back the youngsters, back the seniors. Try to move in the right direction.
"The easiest thing to do for me right now is to quit the captaincy and stay part of the side. That's running away from responsibility that's upon us. Of course there are others who will decide. There is BCCI and other administrative people who look into that. For me, my responsibility is to get the team together and be prepared for the next Test match."
As usual, Dhoni contradicted himself in the same answer when asked to elaborate on Duncan Fletcher's role. He said, rightly so, that the team shouldn't look for excuses and scapegoats, but in the same breath he made these Test defeats sound like an aberration, failing to admit to the lows that the team has reached.
"He [Fletcher] has got excellent technical knowledge about our batting," Dhoni said. "He guides us in the right direction. Ultimately once you cross that rope you are on your own whatever happens. That's the time you have to get up and retaliate. That's where we are lacking as of now.
"It's wrong to question the coach. We have won quite a few series, the ODI performance have been really good. In between we have won Test series. Okay in Australia and England we struggled, but this is a series after that that we have not done well, the last two matches that you see. You shouldn't really look for excuses, to put it on the coach. Ultimately it is up to the 11 players who turn up on the field. On a wicket like this, you need to score more runs, and the situation will be different."
For the record, India have been knocked out of two ODI tournaments this year, they have lost to Bangladesh, and were disappointing in World Twenty20 too. In Tests, they have won at home, and that too against West Indies and New Zealand. In the West Indies, they won one Test and refused to try to win another. The Test record under Fletcher is 10 defeats to six wins. Reduce it to strong opposition, and it becomes 9-1. This is not to put all the blame on Fletcher, but to clarify that India haven't won much at all, unlike what the captain believes.
Dhoni also said the side's batting can't run away from responsibility either. The first question he was asked at the press conference was, "How bad does it need to get before it gets better?" Dhoni didn't answer directly, but responded with a description of batting failures.
"The batting order will have to take responsibility," he said. "We need to score more runs. This was a very good wicket to bat on. Of course the bowlers will bowl a few good deliveries that you need to keep out. But the top seven, most of us will have to score at the same time so that we can get a par total, which the bowlers can look to defend. If you don't score too many runs in the first innings and if the opposition score runs in the first innings, you will find yourself under pressure."
Dhoni said this was not the worst phase of his career. The worst came in England and Australia, he said, for at least here they can hope to rectify the problems. "If you talk about the low, the England, Australia series were the lows because we weren't able to compete," he said. "Here we know what the faults are and we should be able to rectify those. Overall the bowlers are doing well, I think. Once you don't get enough runs on the board you question bowlers too as to if they would have defended a bigger score as well, but I think the spinners have done really well. Bit more contribution from the fast bowlers would really help."
On the fast bowlers, the obvious question was about Zaheer Khan's effectiveness and fitness. "It's a very technical question," Dhoni said. "The beauty of it is we all know the problem and it will be great help if find out a solution. Everybody is asking the same question.
"As far as the fitness is concerned, he has been the way he is for the last few years. Definitely he is not unfit, he is doing everything. The England batsmen are doing well. From behind it looks as if he is bowling in the right area. Bowlers sometimes go through a phase when they don't get wickets. This is a phase maybe. As far as the bowling is concerned he is still bowling quite the same. He is swinging it both ways. We will have to wait and watch. He looks fit. Fitness is not an issue."
We will wait and watch indeed. Dhoni was due to go to a selection meeting soon after leaving the ground.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo