World Twenty20 2012 October 6, 2012

Mini crisis presents major opportunity for India

India were underwhelming in the World Twenty20 again, and the team is in flux, but a new selection panel gives Dhoni a chance for a makeover

Since last year's World Cup win, India have lost 4-0 in away Test series twice, have been knocked out in the first round of two one-day tournaments, and have failed to go past the first serious round of the World Twenty20. One of their Test openers has not scored a century in nearly two years, the other will have gone three without one if he doesn't reach three figures against England. Their best bowler's endurance is now under doubt, he has not taken a Test five-for in two years nor an ODI four-for in four, and he is a liability in the field in limited-overs cricket. Their captain's defensive mindset, especially when out of his comfort zone, is well documented. It doesn't help that their coach is a man credited with introducing deep cover in the first half-hour of a Test match. If the board, the captain, the coach and the selectors are not worried, they had better find new jobs.

It is just as well that India have failed at T20 too, a format way more popular in the country than Tests telecast early in the day. The captain, though, will tell you India were "satisfactory" in Sri Lanka, where they won four matches out of five, where they were slotted in a group of teams that all won their preliminary leagues, where it rained in their match against Australia, and where they lost the toss when they needed to improve their net run rate. This is reminiscent of the tour of Australia, where they made perfectly fair pitches sound like green tops on which the ball seamed around like a drunk. In a fair world, they might tell you, India should still be No. 1 in Tests, and World Twenty20 champions to boot.

If you look closely, though, you will find it was all loaded in India's favour in Sri Lanka. They played on pitches that suited them: dry, and assisting spinners. They didn't have to adjust to new venues, unlike Sri Lanka, who played each of their three rounds at a new venue. Most importantly India played the last match of the Super Eights, unlike Pakistan, who played blind, not knowing exactly what they needed to do. India, on the other hand, knew they needed to restrict South Africa to 121, and still refused to gamble at all.

They didn't fail when it rained enough to take the players off for five minutes. (By the way, they had won the toss that night, they knew rain was forecast, and still picked three spinners and chose to bat first.) The failure had actually begun when the selectors picked the squad. The captain was given a side with little energy, little fitness, no pace options, and the outrageous return of Piyush Chawla. MS Dhoni gets some deserved flak for certain moves, but who could he turn to?

This is not to absolve Dhoni, though. Especially when he claims four wins out of five as some sort of moral victory, as the "best they could do" but for one bad loss. For, the fourth of those wins was meaningless. When you know all along that you have to beat South Africa by 31 runs to stay alive but you nearly give up trying to do so after four overs, the eventual one-run win should hardly count as a win.

It was surreal watching the defensive fields as South Africa inched towards that 122. There was a time when India were 24 runs from elimination with seven overs to bowl, and R Ashwin, India's best chance of taking wickets against a side that struggles against spin, still had three overs left. True to Dhoni's captaincy form over the last year and a half, India hoped, waited, sat back.

There were more signs of diffidence. When Dhoni finally made the bold move of dropping Virender Sehwag, he immediately cancelled it out by asking Irfan Pathan to open, seeking the reassurance of a No. 7 batsman in a 20-over game. Elsewhere, three of the four semi-finalists had three of their best batsmen in the top four. They didn't spend their energies worrying what if it all went wrong and what if they were five down well inside 20 overs. They wanted their best batsmen to go out there, bat well and make use of as many balls as possible. India had one of the best limited-overs batsmen in the world refusing to bat any higher than No. 7, while others scratched around wasting precious balls. To loosely translate a Punjabi saying, if you leave the house wailing, you will bring back news of the dead.

The openers continue to get a rope longer than perhaps any other set has had, Zaheer Khan's workload refuses to come down, and we don't know if Sachin Tendulkar is committed to going to South Africa in November 2013

Any team is built around three pillars: selectors, captain and coach. At the moment, two of India's are failing and the third we don't know anything about. Except that he is working for a board that opposes one of his ideas, the DRS. Except that he was a master of gamesmanship, and the team he now works with calls batsmen back because it fears criticism from the media. Except that he loved the use of pace but is made to work with trundlers in international cricket while the one proper fast bowler India have plays domestic cricket. How comfortable is Duncan Fletcher with this job? We don't know, and we never might.

These are important times. Over the coming two Test series, India are supposed to show England and Australia they too are rubbish away from home. More importantly, they are supposed to rebuild, with 2013 onwards in mind, when they will tour South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia. There have been no signs that the Srikkanth-led panel of selectors and the captain were looking that far ahead. They are all hoping, waiting, sitting back. The openers continue to get a rope longer than perhaps any other set has had, Zaheer Khan's workload refuses to come down, and we don't know if Sachin Tendulkar is committed to going to South Africa in November 2013.

Dhoni was a remarkably good leader of a settled team, selflessly taking the back seat and making sure his superstar players got the best environment in which to do their thing. Now, though, that same coolness makes him look like he is going through the motions. He forever gives the impression he is not happy with the squad, with the pitches, with the format. Yet he also seems reluctant to take complete charge.

With the team in flux, India need a more assertive and proactive Dhoni, both on and off the field. A Dhoni prepared to make the tough calls, eager to shape his own team, more Imran Khan than Viv Richards. A captain who demands certain standards of the team, one who refuses to carry non-performers. A captain prepared to take on some pressure by asking for the team he wants, and not sulk later. If he can win a match in three days and still criticise the groundsman for not giving his side enough home advantage, surely he can be forceful in selection matters too? He even has a fresh set of selectors, a clean slate if you will, to work with.

However, if Dhoni is not willing to be that man, or not capable of it, or if he has lived his shelf life as captain, there are no alternatives India can turn to. Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir will be better off worrying about keeping their places in the side, and Tendulkar is close to retiring. Impressive as his maturing as a cricketer is, Virat Kohli might still be too young for the Test job.

We don't know if Dhoni loses sleep over things like the legacy he will leave as captain, but we know that if he can't arrest this free fall, it will offset the World Cup win and the rise to No. 1 in Tests. Dhoni has never given the impression he is trying too hard, except when he is batting perhaps, but the next two-three years are cut out for a captain willing to try too hard.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Vijay on October 9, 2012, 19:39 GMT

    One thing is for sure. Batting need to selected as per requirement of format with 2-3 players being common factor. For ex Yusuf Pathan, Utappa need to be in T20 team perhaps at cost of Gambhir and Rohit who seem more suited for ODI format. Raina,Yuvraj,Kohli and Dhoni are common players for both ODI and T20 format. Sehwag needs to be more responsible or else retire and replaced by Unmukt Chand or Rahane in ODI. Talented spinners like Harmeet , Aparajith , Iqbal ,Saxena need to be trained as per formats they need to play. Tearway fast bowlers need to be found and polished. Seamers with swing capability need to be encouraged

  • Mahesh on October 9, 2012, 16:00 GMT

    Hats off to you Siddharth. There couldn't have been a better written article on India's real problem than this.

  • Naresh on October 9, 2012, 11:34 GMT


  • david on October 8, 2012, 17:58 GMT

    they can certainly play T20 when its a big paypacket. but their game seems to go to pot when if for their country. so simple solution is pay them less for ipl and more for when they play for their country.

  • akash on October 8, 2012, 17:26 GMT

    The first thing BCCI needs to do is to have the selection committee organised better so that for Tests, ODIs and 20-20s teams could be selected according to the merits of each format and continuity maintained. For example the next 20-20 may be played after 4 Tests and 5 ODIs. So when the team is picked it must be a continuation of this WC team. But what happens is that the selectors may pick an ODI team and continue with the team for the 20-20. Worse is when ODI performance is counted for Test selection. Like picking Raina ahead of Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane for Tests. The solution could be that out of the 5 selectors 1 each could completely concentrate on one format of the game alone so that effectively it can function as a 3 member committee for each format.

  • s on October 8, 2012, 13:58 GMT

    Fan--tas--tic Mr.Sid...Spot on ...Loved every bit of this article.This is one of the brave article for this Season..

  • Raghvendra on October 8, 2012, 7:34 GMT

    Chill guyzzzz... I can understand that u wan India to play to win.. It's impossible for a team to win each n every match.. See The mind set of Caribbean's Team has gone places after the arrival of gayle.. There is so much of positivity in the team that they are working as a unit. Gilchrist never perform in any match of the last worldcup he played until finals.. One good day , one good match n ret is history.. A man who can hit consecutive fifties in five t20 A man who can hit the boundary on very first ball of biggest tournament A man who can hit 175 in the very first match of wc2011 when he was out of form A man who hits 219 the double century n the highest score up to date

  • DaGame on October 8, 2012, 5:54 GMT

    KiwiRocker@ No matter how low our talent pool becomes but India still will never loose against Pakistan. Umar Gul that Pathan is literally scared of real OG Haryanvi JAAT - Sehwag. If you call Raina overhyped, I have no words for Afridi, Umar Akmal and Co. Worst case India have better fast bowlers at this time then Pakistan. India has Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaaron and Ishant Sharma. And looking at your spinners, looks like even Ajmal will be thrashed in this years IPL.

  • Ravi on October 8, 2012, 4:56 GMT

    Wishful thinking Mongaji- The forthcoming Domestic series should go our way,traditional home advantage. Everything will be forgotten in the euphoria of success and we will be back with our old ways. Come the overseas tours in 2013 the reality will hit us. Let us hope the new selection committee under Sandip Patil displays better judgment to restore a sense of urgency with fresh bold ideas in matter of selection by choosing guys who fulfill both form and fitness.Class is permanent only if there is consistency seen on the playing field in competition with the best in the opposition,not by IPL standards

  • VENKATACHALAM on October 8, 2012, 4:33 GMT

    MSD has always been a defensive captain, comfortable and aggressive only on conditions which help his spinners.

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