October 26, 2008

Give it to the keeper

Why India should seriously consider retaining Dhoni as captain for the rest of the series, whether Kumble plays or not

Kumble or Dhoni? The Mohali Test has made the decision all too easy © AFP

Former Australia wicketkeeper Ian Healy is a sceptic when it comes to captaincy. He believes any suggestion it plays a significant role in achieving victory is purely self-promotion by the fraternity of skippers.

For the benefit of the court I'm displaying Exhibit A, a video of Australia's second innings at Bangalore. Specifically, the period in the game when Anil Kumble was off the field and stand-in captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni led a vibrant India, a team that looked far superior to the one that performed in pedestrian mode a few hours later when the appointed captain was back in charge.

For the true non-believers this is Exhibit B: a video of the second Test, when Dhoni had the captaincy all to himself and a rampant India won by the biggest run margin in their history. Your honour, I rest my case for Dhoni to be appointed captain of India, not just for limited-overs and Twenty20 matches but Tests as well.

Yes, that's right, a change of captain mid-series.

It's not such a dramatic move if you consider the original reason for choosing Kumble as captain of the Test side. He was the ideal person to fill in for a short period until Dhoni was ready to do the job and also to avoid burdening the young keeper-batsman with a tough tour of Australia as his opening gambit in the Test captain's job.

Anybody who watched the Mohali Test and still thinks Dhoni needs more grooming has attended too many dog shows. Dhoni is not only ready, his captaincy in Mohali was a major reason why India currently holds the psychological upper hand in this Test series.

If India doesn't make the permanent change to Dhoni, they risk handing Australia a get-out-of-jail card. Whether Australia is in the right frame of mind to put that card to full use in this series is another question, but why would India want to dig an escape tunnel and chance their opponents stumbling upon it?

The best way to beat a good team is to attack them and try to provoke mistakes. In Bangalore, Kumble played a waiting game and Australia prospered, while in Mohali, Dhoni went on the offensive from the moment he won the toss, which helped send his opponents crashing to defeat.

There's no doubt winning the toss made a huge difference, and having Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir set off aggressively also helped, but Dhoni did plenty to assist his own and the team's cause. Most importantly he created an atmosphere where the players enjoyed the contest. Sehwag was a classic example. He had a smile from start to finish, enjoying his team-mates' success and revelling in the fact that India was playing an aggressive brand of cricket. Dhoni is wise to involve his team in an exciting contest where victory is sought from the first ball, because it galvanises the better players in his team.

Zaheer Khan was like a man possessed, heavily involved in placing his field, and Sachin Tendulkar behaved like an exuberant 18-year-old when he took a vital catch in the second innings. However, the most conclusive evidence that Dhoni had created a winning atmosphere came from the opposing captain.

After the match Ricky Ponting said that India had outplayed his side from start to finish in all aspects, even fielding. An aging Indian side outfielding an athletic Australian side - the next thing you know, Dhoni will be turning water into wine.

Whether the Indian selectors choose Kumble as a bowler for the third Test is dependent on whether he's fit enough to perform near his best. If he is, then he returns to the team because he has been a warrior for India and has brought great credit to himself and his country.

It would be a blessing in disguise to relieve Kumble of the captaincy so he can just concentrate on bowling well and rounding out a wonderful career in a manner befitting a successful and classy cricketer.

It has been said that good captaincy is like pornography - it's hard to define but you know it when you see it. Usually when you do see it, a victory soon follows and after Dhoni's great performance at Mohali, it might be the right time to ask Healy if he still thinks good captaincy doesn't affect the result of a match.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Chandra on October 28, 2008, 20:58 GMT

    I don't question Dhoni's abilities as a cricketer and real showman, who, as a new captain, dares to take a calculated gamble. But we get carried away by solitary successess; when we win through team effort, we put the captain on a pedestal, while we are quick to blame the Captain's decisions when the whole team fails and we lose. In the Mohali Test, Dhoni was again a lucky winner of the toss, but he was in no way responsible for Ganguly's and Gambhir's centuries, nor the humongous efforts by Zaheer and Harbhajan. Yes, he promotee himself in the batting order, but this is something Captain Dravid himself had done very often by promoting aggressive players and demoting himself down the order when the situation warranted. So it was a combination of toss and team-effort... the whole team deserves praise. Kumble has earned the right to decide when to quit, and Ian Chappell has no right to patronise us. Our Selectors are capable of making the right decisions without being influenced by BCCI.

  • Manoj on October 28, 2008, 18:58 GMT

    I have already articulated my opinion on the captaincy issue. This is to those who say Kumble didnt perform in SA on a turning pitch etc. using your own argument, whenever a batsman fails on a batting beauty, should he be pointed the door? Granted, Kumble has been having a poor year 2008. In the last 7 tests, he has taken only 13 wickets. But remember, in those tests, the fast bowlers particularly Ishant have got a lot of wickets. A poor run over 7 tests is hardly the reason to call for axe, almost any top cricketer goes thru these. Lets talk after Kumble makes the ball talk in Delhi!

    I'll be back.

  • Trent on October 28, 2008, 4:32 GMT

    My response is to "sydneymurugan". You may not realise it but your comments are extremely racist. You have also taken Chappels comments as racially motivated. This is absolutely absurd. You do not have a moral high ground just because you are indian and have had culture for a lot longer than the aussies. Ian's comments are not about Aussie culture vs Indian Culture. Its about producing the best possible team for every single test match that is played. I think some people take their culture too seriously when reading opinions from journalists. Lets not forget that this is a game for entertainment. Lighten up.

  • Davesh on October 28, 2008, 3:38 GMT

    I guess everyone is missing one very important point - role of Sehwag (and Gambhir). I can't see India dominating any test match unless Sehwag succeeds. He's the most important personality in the Indian lineup far more valuable than Dhoni or even Tendulkar. Sehwag has played crucial knocks in most of the matches that India has won in India or abroad. Still no columnist no player talks about the greatness of this lad. Forget about the Fab-4, Sehwag is the Fab1 in the Indian batting line up. Well i have no doubt that history will be far more respectful to Sehwag than the present.

  • Eric on October 27, 2008, 13:24 GMT

    first of all Dhoni has been great but to justify India's wins due to his captaincy in the test arena is lame. If at all we should be blaming anyone for the loses India has suffered lattely then both captain and senior players such as Sachin, Rahul, VVS and Sourav should shoulda the blame as a whole...these are guys who know the value of winnings games and do not need a captain to motivate their personal performances...I think Dhoni should take ova afta this series and give Kumble up to the end of the year to say his goodbyes along with the fab four...Sehwag and Dhoni along with Yuvraj will be thurr to nature the younga batsmen but its just about time but the point is you cannot dismiss legends just like that...lets give them a platform to go out.Sehwag is every team's nightmare right besides respect on current form even Tendulkar does not match him...

  • Lucky on October 27, 2008, 12:53 GMT

    Chappell Is Just Right Dhoni Should Be The Captain.Anil Kumble's Time Is Up. He Is Not The Same Bowler A Few Years Back. He Is Also Unfit, Fielding Is Sloopy. The Whole Team Performs Better Under Dhoni. He Is A Good Thinking Captain. Very Aggressive Style. That's What Is Needed To Win Matches. If Anil Captains The Next Two Tests, Australia May Comeback Strongly. So Beware India! Good Luck To Dhoni.

  • Amar on October 27, 2008, 9:58 GMT

    No doubt Kumble is great player that India has ever produced and no doubt on the way he handled the affairs in Australia during troubled times after Sydney. But he doesn't look in charge of the proceedings when on the field as captain of late. I saw the match at Bangalore from stadium and he never looked like a captain and in-charge of the team. He was keepng it to himself and it reflects on players performance. It was exactly opposite when Dhoni was leading at Mohali. I agree with Ian Chappel. We need no discard Kumble the player, but certainly need to change the guard for the benefit of Indian team.They gel really well under Dhoni.

  • Naseer on October 27, 2008, 7:29 GMT

    I think Kumble deserves to remain as captian at least during this series, which would mark his fate either way, why do we forget his very recent heroics in Aus, with bowl, bat and captaincy, considering his overall cricking credintials he deserves to be the leader, I am sure he would prove it once for all, the jumobo is still ready to deliver.

  • Kinjan on October 27, 2008, 7:23 GMT

    I think chappell is being ignorant here. He is trying to stir things up between players so that India lose the game. This guy is trying to be so smart but he does not know that public is 10938473298 times smarter than him. He needs to get out of his dreams and start realizing he is not living in fantasy land. Overall leave Indian players alone and worry about your own players who are struggling right now. Nuff said.

  • Vijay on October 27, 2008, 3:09 GMT

    I personally think Dhoni is a better captain than Kumble is or ever will be. But that doesn't mean Indians will ditch Kumble for Dhoni at this stage of his career, where he is entitled to a graceful exit, if not a grand one. This person's entire life's savings (not $$) is at stake here. The least we can do is to carry him on our shoulders and dedicate it to him when we celebrate our series victory. This is our tribute to him. That's how we pay him back, Ian. That's how India is and had been for these 5000 years. Even if we lose the series, this would be the morally right thing, the only right thing to do.

    We are not in the habit of "winning at any cost". Thank you.

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