June 1, 2014

Why Cook and Dhoni will struggle against Clarke

England's captain is too conservative and India's can't seem to bring his limited-overs aggression into the Test arena, so they are unlikely to beat Australia

In reality, the degree of difficulty involved in captaincy lies somewhere between those who believe it's a mystery Sherlock Holmes couldn't unravel and the camp of great Australian legspinner Bill "Tiger" O'Reilly, who concluded: "My collie dog could captain a cricket team."

However two international captains, MS Dhoni and Alastair Cook - provided they retain their jobs - will soon face a task closer to the Holmes degree of difficulty. Both Dhoni and Cook will have a return bout with an opposing captain who handed them a drubbing, a whitewash, a hiding - take your pick which terminology you use - but whichever way you perceive the situation, it's the toughest task any captain faces.

The difficulty is created by the style of the opposing captain. As long as Michael Clarke's dodgy back holds out, Australia will commence both those Test series with a huge advantage.

Clarke's style is ultra-aggressive, with an attack to match, so he'll be prodding the opposition from the opening delivery of the series. In contrast Dhoni, at least in Tests away from home, is a captain who tends to be reactive rather than proactive. Clarke's style wins that contest every time.

Cook is ultra-conservative, and during the 5-0 drubbing in Australia, even when he had the opposition teetering on the edge of the cliff, he couldn't initiate the final shove. As much as anything, that's what frustrated Kevin Pietersen. He's an aggressive cricketer who likes to win and he could see England, unconvincingly led by Cook, had little chance of beating Australia.

It may well be that Pietersen had worn out his credits as a match-winner but it still makes little sense to cast aside your best batsman to bolster a captain who is out of his depth. At least out of his depth in a head-to-head battle with a captain like Clarke.

Supporters of Cook will say he can improve. While an important part of captaincy is learning on the job from your mistakes, there are certain critical things about the task that can't be learned. Aggressive intent and a positive approach can't be taught and Cook will be hard-pressed to acquire those innate qualities. He's unlikely to match Clarke in a contest where those attributes tilt the scales.

Dhoni is a slightly different case. He does have an aggressive streak as captain and it stands him in good stead in the shorter forms of the game. However, that trait seems to desert him in a Test series played away from his beloved home turf.

Dhoni's failings could be caused by a combination of things. Firstly, the short forms of the game virtually dictate how you should play, whereas in Test cricket, the captain has to establish a pattern and then attempt to impose his will on the opposition. Secondly, a captain can stay in the job too long. This leads to him becoming stale and adopting a more conservative approach.

It's going to be hard for India to beat Australia away from home. They don't possess the fast bowlers who are crucial to winning on bouncy pitches and there's a question mark over their batting under those conditions.

India may not win under another captain - most likely Virat Kohli - but they have no chance under Dhoni. On the last tour of Australia, India went downhill fast under his leadership and unless the injection of youth has an inspirational effect, I don't see Dhoni reversing that trend.

In Cook's case he has one advantage. His next meeting with Clarke will be on English soil. Nevertheless, it won't help Cook much as his team is short on match-winners with Pietersen's dismissal, and Australia's strong pace attack should be suited to English conditions.

The real problem for England is they have virtually no alternative choice for captain. Neither situation bodes well for India or England in a series where captaincy could make all the difference.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Pete on June 6, 2014, 15:58 GMT

    To paraphrase Leonard Cohen on Phil Spector: Captain Dhoni may be a mad genius. But he is a genius.

  • ESPN on June 5, 2014, 21:34 GMT

    Spot on as usual Chappelli although you are probably going to cop a bit for this! Cook is a poor excuse for a captain, and without KP England will be in danger of getting decimated each time they walk out onto a cricket ground, at least in the short term. Dhoni is a good player but only a fair captain, both will struggle against pup, especially at home.

  • Jay on June 4, 2014, 3:24 GMT

    Miss #3) the unknown unknowns, things we don't know we don't know. It's presumptuous of Ian to say "Cook & Dhoni will struggle against Clarke". As if the rest of the world stagnates, while OZ rides the wave. Even experts are failing to see the looming signs: It's T20 that's become the platform for Test cricket. Many OZ stars play in IPL: Warner, Watson, Smith, Haddin, Johnson, Bailey & Co. So did Clarke & Harris last year. Not to mention emerging stars: Maxwell, Starc, Cummins, Faulkner. In fact, Brett Lee credits Johnson's resurgence to his IPL stint. Improved Warner is back in Tests. This year's IPL was very competitive. In the exciting finals on Sunday, it's the unfancied, unknown players who stole the show: M Pandey, M Vohra, A Patel & an older W Saha. India's not sitting still. Yes, it has a wealth of hidden talent. Selectors are watching IPL closely to find the next Sehwag. Remember he was your "next Bradman", Ian? The opposition can ambush too. Elementary, my dear Chappelli!!

  • Jay on June 4, 2014, 3:05 GMT

    Ian - Spot on about Sherlock Holmes: he's clueless, he misses! Miss #1) the known knowns, things we know that we know. Coaching matters. Darren Lehmann's arrival turned OZ around. Look at the dismal situation when Arthur & Clarke suffered the "Homework" saga & a 0-4 whitewash in India. Arthur was axed. The affable Lehmann was inserted to remedy the toxic team culture. It worked. Though OZ lost 0-3 in Eng, they rebounded later at home with a 5-0 Ashes drubbing. The momentum carried over to SA: OZ won 2-1. Cooke could not have succeeded without Lehmann. Miss #2) the known unknowns, things we know we don't know. Cricket's vagaries - injury, form loss, fatigue, burnout, personal issues - can quickly render a team vulnerable to defeat. Also longevity. Many key players are over 30 - Haddin (36), Rogers (36), Harris (34), Watson (33), Johnson (32). Clarke too (33). Surely these "ageing masters" are limited by their "use-by-dates", especially Clarke with his "dodgy back". Time to exit, Ian?

  • ashok on June 3, 2014, 22:16 GMT

    Ian, if Clarke is too good as you exaggerate, why did he loose 4-0 to India in India ? Every team will struggle in another country and at times luck decides who will win, just like SL winning in England at the moment...

  • ESPN on June 3, 2014, 17:32 GMT

    @Jamie: Fast bowlers will win you matches outside subcontinent.. Its as simple as that.. Australia is winning because clarke has bowlers like johnson, siddle, pattinson who bowl close to 150kmph.. Im sure dhoni would be a great captain if he has bowlers like that.. If you are true follower of cricket you will know that india were the true winners of 2007 test series if not for steve bucknor in the sydney test.. We won the one day series following that..

  • Ashok on June 3, 2014, 13:08 GMT

    Dhoni is a proven failure as a Captain to lead India overseas. It is so obvious that it does not need a Rocket Scientist to prove it. Why is he still the Captain of the Indian Team touring England? The Indian Selectors have some serious Soul searching to do as regards their tactics or reasoning behind Dhoni continuing to lead India overseas in Tests. Rohit Sharma is the best alternate choice. He is better tactician & leader than Dhoni. He also has the personality. That is the first change India needs if it needs to perform better. Secondly, India needs to focus on opening batsmen & opening bowlers seriously. Dropping an in-form pace bowler like Umesh Yadev or opening batsman Uthappa shows serious deficiencies in the selectors. Form, Record & Fitness should be the only basis for selection. Last but not the least at least one batsman & bowler should be selected with an eye on the future- e.g., Nair & Sandeep Sharma. India has the best talent & if used correctly will perform at high level

  • Dummy4 on June 3, 2014, 13:07 GMT

    I tend to agree with Ian's views on Clarke, undoubtedly aggressive. However as it was shown in the series in India an aggressive captain without the correct team (more so bowlers bit batsmen too) will have his tactics backfire. Aus has only done well in seamer friendly conditions remember!!! India's recent tours of south Africa and new Zealand clearly have shown lack of penetrative fast bowling is the clear cause of unflattering results. Batting has performed satisfactorily but loosing matches or drawing matches when you have the runs to back you up is just not done. Before passing dhoni for being reactive abroad I wish we could see him with a pace battery of two 135-140 and one quality 145-150 km bowling attack. Unfortunately this might just be a dream.

  • ESPN on June 3, 2014, 12:37 GMT

    All the folk on here defending Dhoni are completely missing the point! Chappell is purely stating that Dhoni will struggle outside of a India against Clarke as if you haven't noticed India are touring Australia later in the year. So all these folk going on about being whitewashed 4-0 in India are obviously a bit wet between the ears , as actually read the article properly. Australia will hammer India 4-0 again this summer as we did it last time with a weaker Aussie team than this one , and exactly as Chappell put it , Dhoni is totally rubbish outside of his custom made dust bowls. And again before all you Indians start moaning again yes Australia and most other teams will still struggle in India , but Australia won there in 2004 so when was the last time India won in Australia? Yes thought so!

  • Rajkumar on June 3, 2014, 9:09 GMT

    Everyone seems to attribute Clarke's aggression to the presence of Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris. Yes,he has the most feared fast bowler in his repository. But that is not the only cause for his aggression. Remember his first series in SA after the Ashes debacle in 2011 and his declarations. They were always sportive and result oriented.(like they are right now).Also Clarke is a very shrewd tactician unlike Dhoni and Cook.(look at his use of Lyon and how he has been molded into Aus attack, spin was a major headache since the days of Shane Warne and although we cant say Aus spin problems have been addressed they are currently at a much better position than they were during the days of Doherty,Beer,Krajza etc ).Even if Dhoni has a 150 k bowler he wont know how to use him(see how he has left Umesh Yadav at home for the series against Eng.)not saying Yadav is anyway similar to Mitch. point is Dhoni being a poor test player will always be a poor captain .Period.

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