Dravid backs Dhoni as Test captain
Rahul Dravid believes MS Dhoni remains the right man to lead India despite his seven straight Test defeats as captain in England and Australia last year, but, in the near future, the selectors will need to consider reducing his captaincy workload in one format to get the best out of him as wicketkeeper and batsman.
Speaking to Harsha Bhogle and Sanjay Manjrekar on Time Out, ESPNcricinfo's fortnightly audio podcast which will feature on the website on Wednesday, Dravid said it was important that Dhoni started planning towards rectifying India's recent overseas record at their next major away assignment, against South Africa late next year. Dhoni, Dravid said, would have to play an active role in getting the selectors to pick the type of players he wants and also open himself up to more ideas and suggestions than he has shown to do so far.
"From his own personal point of view, you also want to see the best of Dhoni as a player. He has a lot to contribute as a batsman and wicketkeeper and we want to see the best of that," Dravid, Dhoni's predecessor as captain, said. "I don't think we want to lose that and if that means at some stage, maybe the time's not right now but in the near future, we have to relieve him of the responsibility from one format to get the best out of him as a player then I think the selectors have to take that call." Across all three formats, Dhoni has captained India in 203 of his 318 matches.
"He has got to have an eye on some of the challenges he faces in his career, to be seen as a good overseas captain as well. That will be a function of the team he gets, but he's got to try and have an influence on the kind of team he gets, the kind of personnel he wants and that's a process that he's got to start now," Dravid said. "It's a process of communication and negotiation with selectors, coaches, working on some of the skill-sets of some of the bowlers and young batsmen coming through on what is required in a year's time.
"So while he has a micro view of what needs to be done in these [home] series [against England and Australia], he needs to discuss with the selectors about the kind of players he wants in South Africa and entrust them with the job of actually finding those players in domestic cricket."
The upcoming home Tests are an opportunity, Dravid said, for Dhoni to show he has learned the lessons from the overseas disappointments of last year. While acknowledging that many captains would not have survived in the role after losing seven overseas Tests - Dhoni had missed the final Test in Australia with an over-rate ban - in a row, Dravid said Dhoni's successful record prior to last year's poor results justified giving him another opportunity. "Dhoni has every right to survive it, because he's Dhoni. He has had a disappointing last year but he has won India a World Cup, we've been the No. 1 Test side under Dhoni. If you put pressure on him so early in the piece, or if you try to change someone like Dhoni now, I don't think you'll get to see what he's learned from the last year."
According to Dravid, captaining in India and overseas are two vastly different challenges, largely due to the conditions and the quality of the team's bowling attack. "When [India are] fielding, you can obviously see the difference because on the field is where you've got to manage that bowling attack," he said. "And when you don't have the necessary skills with the bowling attack, you can start looking a bit defensive, a bit flustered, bit rattled and start looking around for answers. But otherwise he's been pretty similar and that's been one of his strengths - his ability to stay balanced even through the highs and lows of Indian cricket, to be able to manage and stay in a cocoon, and not get too affected by what's happening around him."
While Dhoni's calm demeanour and ability to isolate himself from pressure in times of difficulty was an asset, Dravid said "there are a lot of good suggestions outside of the cocoon and there's a lot you can learn and pick up outside of this cocoon as well, which maybe he sometimes misses out on."
Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir have been stand-in captains in Tests and ODIs respectively in the absence of Dhoni, but their own concerns with injury and form in recent times, Dravid said, may have affected their long-term captaincy prospects. Virat Kohli was a good candidate for a successor in Dravid's eyes, provided he was able to extend the success he has had for another year. "In the next 12 months, if he has the kind of 12 months he has had and establishes himself in all three formats of the game, people are going to seriously have to look at him."