February 23, 2014

Time for Dhoni to go

The team needs a more proactive leader who challenges his bowlers to get him wickets

Lately there has been much discussion about the merit of some Test captains and no one has ignited more strident debate over his credentials than MS Dhoni.

Dhoni is a brilliant captain in the shorter versions of the game, and a master at timing his run to the finishing line as a middle-order batsman. However, as a Test captain he's too reactive and has a tendency to let the game meander along, like an absent-minded professor strolling in the park. His conservatism allows the better players among opposition batsmen too much freedom and too many easy runs. Consequently, big partnerships, like the match-saving one by Brendon McCullum and BJ Watling, build too often.

Dhoni really should have been replaced as Test captain following India's disastrous tours of England and Australia in 2011-12, when his teams displayed little fight in losing eight matches on the trot. When a captain starts to hinder his team, he needs to be replaced. During that horror patch, Dhoni was unable to inspire his team and looked like a skipper just going through the motions. There's no doubt that a captain - even the best of them - can stay on too long, to the point where he loses his team.

Dhoni did bounce back when he orchestrated a convincing whitewash of Australia at home. There's no question he's a better captain under familiar conditions. He's at his best with spinners operating regularly, whereas when conditions are more in tune with seamers he struggles.

In fairness to the selectors, not replacing Dhoni following the disaster in Australia was understandable, as a number of senior players retired and the alternatives were few.

A suitable alternative is now available in Virat Kohli. He has leadership experience as captain of Indian youth teams and, more importantly, he's now the right age and has matured into a top-class batsman. Even more importantly, he has shown his mettle overseas by scoring runs in difficult arenas like the WACA and the Bullring.

This is the sort of inspiration India need to boost their overseas record. However, what they need even more is a proactive captain who can get the best out of his bowlers when playing in unfamiliar conditions.

Good captains evaluate their assets, then go out and utilise them wisely. Michael Clarke is a perfect example. It's an over-simplification to say he's lucky to have Mitchell Johnson as a spearhead; the bowler is also fortunate to have a captain who enhances his chances of snaring victims. Johnson wouldn't be as successful under the conservative leadership styles of Dhoni, Graeme Smith or Alastair Cook.

Kohli is an aggressive batsman but that doesn't automatically mean he'll captain in the same manner. Ricky Ponting was an aggressive strokemaker nicknamed "Punter", but as captain he didn't take his gambling instincts on to the field.

Kohli needs to be brave as an India captain. Instead of placing defensive fields for Ishant Sharma's wayward deliveries he has to challenge him by deploying men designed to aid the bowler, as long as he maintains line and length. If Ishant can't oblige him, he has to find another bowler who can.

This is where Clarke excels. He expects his bowlers to seek wickets rather than concentrate on saving runs. Eventually this becomes second nature and once bowlers are "expecting" wickets, they tend to be more successful because they are bowling aggressively rather than defensively.

While Dhoni's tendency to rely on batsmen making mistakes and getting themselves out works brilliantly in the shorter forms of the game, the ploy is often exposed as flawed when gritty opponents like McCullum mount a counterattack in Test matches.

Dhoni's latest injury may be fortuitous. It gives the selectors a chance to evaluate Kohli's leadership credentials in the one-day arena, and if he's successful, they should appoint him Test captain.

Indian selectors rarely take the aggressive option. They prefer to allow senior players to decide their own future. Now is a good time to adopt a proactive approach and hope it rubs off on a new captain.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator for Channel 9, and a columnist

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • ESPN on March 4, 2014, 4:25 GMT

    dhoni miss you asiacup

  • Kannan on February 27, 2014, 6:23 GMT

    Look at the young guns of Indian cricket. Rayudu collided with Shami while taking a simple skier and this is not the first time! As Gavaskar commented in exasperation "Don't they teach these people to say MINE?". Varun went through a brain freeze as he mindlessly bowled and stared helplessly as the balls were despatched to the boundary! Rohit Sharma was too lazy to bend and dive forward to take an early slip catch. Shoddy fielding! Ashwin went off for runs as usual... giving away boundaries generously as usual. If you need to give away 279 runs to Bangladesh, can you imagine how many runs the same bowling attack would give away to Aus/SA/Eng/NZ...easily 350+! Little wonder that India got hammered by the likes of SA and NZ in the ODIs recently! Now, how is Dhoni to blame for all this? It doesn't matter who bangs his head against this steel wall of crass incompetence, Dhoni or Kohli, the result will be the same, be it Tests, ODIs or T20s!

  • Dummy4 on February 26, 2014, 8:42 GMT

    12-0 as is stands, is utter embarrassing for a so-called big gun. In all honesty, the team is over hyped beyond proportions and their batsmen can mostly play in the confomts of a flat track.

    Though i agree, that Kohli could make a better captain as he's an aggressive type and also a determined lad.

  • Jay on February 26, 2014, 4:37 GMT

    Ian - Memory loss? Clarke the perfect example of a good captain? Really? He has just 1 win in 11 Tests overseas. It's the worst performance away by Aussies in 3 decades. Compare with SA: they have not lost an away series in the past 8 years! Surely Smith deserves credit for this achievement, so much ahead of all other teams. That's why SA is No 1 in Tests in the world. Clarke is overrated. Chappelli as usual is off the mark, showing signs of senility. That's why his criticism is absurd. Ian as usual is playing the Age card: a young Kohli to replace the older Dhoni. No, not now. Cannot blame Dhoni for India's dismal performance. Its bowlers fail to take 20 wkts; it's agile, young close-in fielders cannot take crucial catches to win matches. It's the team's defence that's failed, not Dhoni's defensiveness. Chappell fails again to read the situation correctly. Age is catching up with him. Time to go fishing, Ian!!

  • Dummy4 on February 25, 2014, 17:53 GMT

    Why Ausies loose every time they visited India, is it becoz captiancy is poor like Steve Waugh and Ponting? Why everybody talk about Indians performance only out side the subcontinent? Is Pakisthan doing good in outside? Or Srilanka? No it is becoz sub continent cricketers groomed in low bounce good bating surfaces. Its shame to hear from experienced cricketer like you. Why Dhoni leave him Cricket pundits.....

  • uncle bob on February 25, 2014, 15:17 GMT

    cricpov: Do you know how many matches Yadav and Varun have played? Do you really know their statistics? Varun is a great prospect but very injury prone and that has hampered his progress But even though in what ever matches they have played look at their statistics and tell us who they can replace in current Indian team and off course they will not be able to replace any body in any other teams.

  • aravind on February 25, 2014, 12:21 GMT

    Chappel brother,is not completely wright as the records speaks for itself the no of wins dhoni has in the test matches placed india in the No 1 position,i agree dhoni as batsmen contribution is less in oversees conditions because of unkanny style of batting which is adjusted in suitable conditions,it is evident during SA & NZ series bowling came back good @ times better than the home side,only concern is to fill in for zak & 3rd front line bowler specifically to support shami who is looking like genuine pace bowler comparable to foreign player with his line & length,who can lead pace attack.as far as leader material one can only look up for kholi for test match captain & continue dhoni for other format which he can still make impact,ability to cotrol the game with 2015 wc is not too far...

  • ESPN on February 25, 2014, 9:08 GMT

    A bad decision , indians wont find a caption like Dhoni ... Respect

  • g on February 25, 2014, 7:14 GMT

    It's an insult to Smith to be named alongside of Dhoni and Cook. Those later two are miles ahead (or below?) of anyone in terms of being defensive.

  • subhasish on February 25, 2014, 7:00 GMT

    kohli making 70 in perth that india lose badly perth wicket is one of the flattest wicket in the australia making 70 when match already over i do not think people remember 70 runs in perth. people remember only wins yes kohli is a gud young player but i do not think he is ready as a test captain at the moment he still learning how to play test cricket so let him play and learn his young just 25 he can become captain age of 27 ,28 played some 50 ,60 tests .