August 14, 2014

Should Dhoni focus on one-day cricket?

His decisions in the England series have seemed to confirm that he does not care too much for the Test game. Maybe he should be concentrating on the World Cup

Following the Old Trafford debacle, MS Dhoni gave an air of not caring deeply enough © AFP

One Test to go in this madcap 42-day pantomime. I have not known a series quite like it. Does that indicate that Test cricket has delivered again, a fluctuating compelling contest?

Fluctuating from the second Test to the third, maybe, but not much during the Tests themselves. Compelling maybe off the field, but it has been such a strange mixture on it, of the sort never seen before. England have done a modern-day Lazarus, but in most cases the most bizarre moves have come from Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

On a poor piece of groundsmanship, the series began. On day two, an even uglier piece of gamesmanship resulted. Days three to five hardly stirred a soul. Yet behind the scenes Dhoni orchestrated a different kind of brinkmanship. He went beyond the game itself, to play another one.

On the other side, Captain Cook was drowning in the game he previously knew so well. Yet in hindsight he was simply using up the rest of the bad air in his tanks, soon to be replaced by newer, fuller, fresher ones. Yes, he must have sensed this was as bad as it gets, but maybe he also sensed that his opposite was swimming in more dangerous depths. He took one large last gasp to play on. Two captains, two complexes.

On day 19, the first in Southampton, the crowd roused a nervous Cook. He jerked at Pankaj Singh, a raw late starter, and Ravindra Jadeja dropped a goober. It was such a poignant moment that it will be remembered for many years to come. Cook went on to stamp his leadership and command. Pankaj went wicketless for what seemed an eternity. Jadeja came and went, his series, possibly his Test career, at a nothing end. India had rushed from the penthouse to the outhouse in record time. England breathed and resurfaced again. A script you could not write.

In between days 24 and 29, Dhoni lost to Gordon Lewis and the ICC. Series over, on and off the field. Despite a punchy 71 by him on day 30, Dhoni and his young millionaires threw in the Test match towel. Late on day 32, after the match was handed to England in a shameful manner, Dhoni talked in the after-match presentation like he didn't care deeply enough.

Mind you, he has said before that Test cricket doesn't really do it for him. It explains, one could suppose, why he is a resolute and effective limited-overs captain and player. That's what stirs him. Whether it be the bucks associated, or the pace of the game or both, he is suited to white-ball, coloured-clothes, short-form cricket, and thrives on it. In Tests it's not the same. And now after a long run, 87 Tests to be precise, the question strengthens about how long he can continue like this as a Test player. Will he hang on for the coveted ton, just as Sachin Tendulkar did for the double-ton? Probably.

Whether it be the bucks associated, or the pace of the game or both, he is suited to white-ball, coloured-clothes, short-form cricket, and thrives on it

If he did back down from Test cricket, India wouldn't miss his strange, often weird, tactics. His selections are illogical when finding the appropriate balance in picking enough specialist players to out-skill the opposition over long periods. His manoeuvrings on the field as keeper and strategist are too often at odds with what the game situation demands - Ishant Sharma bowling short at Lord's the exception.

Instead, Dhoni could focus on his defence of the World Cup he brilliantly coordinated and won, back in 2011. With his limited-overs triumphs he shows a completely different energy, proactive and attacking; those are formats where he has to use the bits-and-pieces players he likes so much. He will need all his gumption and pull to do so again, away from home, with a lesser equipped team. It would be a worthy defence if he pulled it off. Improbable as it may sound, is it time to start planning it away from the Test team?

India need to find a champion who will lead them to uphold the Test match message for future generations to come. From these last 18 days of Test cricket, young aspiring Indian cricketers will seriously wonder what the fuss is about the longer format, based on the lack of care for it by their leaders. The focus will turn to the attractive short forms, the short-term fix.

Cook deserves a bow and a bouquet. He seriously had most of us fooled. He looked shot. He hung in. He needed luck. He got a reprieve and then his team, his senior mates, rallied. It was good to watch after a month - make it 12 months - of burnout and disarray. They took their cue and nailed it on day 19, through to day 32, missing not one beat. They were the ones who deserved a day or two off, not India.

One thing is for sure: Cook is a champion of Test cricket. It's his game. He is the specialist. There is a strong case for him playing only Test cricket from here on. That is not a bad thing, and for England to function effectively Down Under in February next year, they may need a more daring opener and tactician. But in Cook - even if Michael Clarke will not lose sleep knowing Cook is his opposite next year - England at least have someone who will fight a good fight for the great cause of proper, hard-fought, respectful, thoughtful five-day cricket.

Not that the last stanza at The Oval will last the five days scheduled. The curtain in this crazy play may fall early. And what individuals will it fall on?

Martin Crowe, one of the leading batsmen of the late '80s and early '90s, played 77 Tests for New Zealand

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on August 18, 2014, 9:20 GMT

    Well said MC! MSD is an astute, tactician in limited overs game with his innovative field placings, bowl changes ...he just does not let the game drift away beyond a certain point espcly when spinners are on..thet sort of peg the opposition .....generally, wkts are bat friendly in ODI n T20s , so his bat fire power out score the opposition... Test cricket is totally a diff proposition.... quality players espcly bowl , 1seamer n 1spin to take 20 wkts is a big prob....keeping bat failures aside both in Eng n NZ, wkts were bowl friendly, so Ind bowl under-performed( prob lack the fitness n ability) Field placings n team selection were not good, jadeja playing ahead of Ashwin was non-sense.....

  • Jay on August 17, 2014, 14:09 GMT

    Yes, Martin - Dhoni's "strange, often weird, tactics" are puzzling. But let's not be too harsh. He can't carry the team alone. He can't bat, bowl, field, catch & run for the whole team. Nor is he the coach. Don't blame selectors: Ashwin is in, Jadeja out. Don't blame T20: Look, the top 2 Test teams - SA & Oz - both have many players performing in IPL. And don't blame Dhoni: he's shown he has the Staying Power - physical endurance & mental toughness over the long run to cope with adversity & crises, to play through pain & injury, slumps & fatigue. Captain Cool is the only modern-day skipper to lead his team to the top in all 3 formats. Yes, Tests too! Staying Power has been the hallmark of the Indian greats - Ganguly, Dravid, Tendulkar - who carried the burden on their backs in the 1990s & 2000s in India's long path of ascendancy at home & away! Are Kohli, Pujara, Rahane & Co capable of carrying the team as they have done? And as Dhoni is doing now. But he can't do it alone, Martin!

  • mahendra on August 16, 2014, 20:08 GMT

    What about the' poor' umpireing decisions ?

  • Heramb on August 16, 2014, 18:13 GMT

    I hope rakon_me's judgement comes true and Dhoni quits Test cricket after another sureshot humiliation in Australia later this year. I guess I may not be able to bear to watch that series as well and despite being an Indian fan, I want the Oval Test to end tomorrow to be relieved of the pain that Dhoni and his boys have meted out to diehard fans of Indian cricket. I waited patiently for the huge political change that happened in India in May this year after 10 years of misrule. The end of Dhoni's career as India captain will be equally sweet as and when it happens,sooner the better.

  • Jay on August 16, 2014, 15:57 GMT

    Martin - Yes, it's a "madcap 42-day pantomime"! Fluctuating with the "strange, often weird" twists & turns of modern cricket, there's often a thin line between winning & losing. That's why Captain Cook has us totally "fooled". He's the Lazarus of Four Misses (Days)! Besides Jadeja's goober early in Cook's 95 in South'ton, there were 2 more drops in his 79 at The Oval (Vijay, Rahane), not to mention the early missed lbw call. That's Four Misses!!!! What's more, he hasn't scored a ton in ~15 months, the last one vs NZ at Leeds. Check facts: it took Tendulkar just 1 year to go from his 99th to his magical 100 tons! So how long does Cook "hang on for the coveted (next) ton"? A cat with 9 lives in a pantomime? Cook's now lionised by the same critics who were demonising him 40 days ago! Madcaps! What's more, Cook's now anointed a "champion of Test cricket"? Really? Martin, remember you recently declared: "From WG Grace to now, you (SRT) stand above them all"! That's Sachin for you, Martin!!

  • Baskar on August 16, 2014, 5:10 GMT

    Some captains are blessed with great batsmen, or at least some batsmen in form and great bowlers, or at least some bowlers in form. Cook has this in Balance, Bell and Root and Anderson, Broad and Ali. Dhoni has Vijay, sort of, and Bhuvi, sort of and Ishant, once in a while. No wonder he hates test cricket, anyone who captains a side full of mediocrity on current form will feel drained. I am afraid this article simply ignores this context and thus misses out at a more complex portrayal.

  • Sanju on August 16, 2014, 2:48 GMT

    Many wanted Ghambir or Virat to replace Dhoni, they've failed miserably, and now we are looking up to Sehwag for a Miracle. Pujara wanted to play in all 3 formats and many expected him to be the next wall, but the wall keeps collapsing more often than not. And still many blame the DRS, but we need to keep in mind it is not available for both the teams, so how will it harm one more than the other??? Because if Luck??? That sounds more ridiculous than an anything else. As the saying goes luck favors the brave, and it's confidence that allows them to be brave. This Indian team's confidence have been dented badly and we need some one to step. Dhoni does his best, but he needs company. Rahane and Ashwin showed promise in the 4th test, but this time was unable to deliver. This was the case of England too in the first 2 matches, but they have come out of their shell and playing the game of their life. The confidence of this Indian team has to be lifted, a lot depends on the Coach. Cheers!!

  • Dummy4 on August 15, 2014, 23:58 GMT

    Dhoni is not a great captain he is somebody who waits for things to happen than making things day and T20 format suits his captaincy because luck always favours him and batsmen tend to do more mistakes in the process of scoring runs at a brisk there dhoni doesn't have to use too many just works... India is failing because they no longer have greats like sehwag tendulkar dravid ganguly and laxman.....none of the current players have great techniques to play on pitches away from home....the current indian team are heroes at home and zeroes outside.... loads of attitude and no talent...

  • Bensen on August 15, 2014, 10:49 GMT

    @Suraj Varma India has the money i accept that, but talent i doubt it..ppl call Rohit sharma talented all the time ,they say he is talented than pujara,vijay,rahane,dhawan,dhoni,yuvraj,raina and on par with kohli ,but as he made any meaningful contribution? there is always a question of his place in the side be it odi's or urge ppl not to use the word talent anymore ,i'm sick and tired of that word because of Rohit Sharma ...

  • Dummy4 on August 15, 2014, 6:50 GMT

    You are absolutely right. Either Dhoni give up captaincy Or Wicketkeeping Duty. Better give chances to other Keepers.