Dhoni dismisses calls to give up captaincy

MS Dhoni has hit back at his critics, saying the captaincy was a responsibility he was given and not something he craved or clung to

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
MS Dhoni has hit back at his critics, saying the captaincy was a responsibility he was given and not something he craved or clung to. In the aftermath of India's successive ODI defeats and subsequent series loss to Bangladesh, Dhoni said he would love to give up the captaincy if that guaranteed a change of fortunes for India.
"I am really enjoying my cricket," Dhoni said when asked of his captaincy plans, before making plain his annoyance at the media scrutiny. "I know this question was coming. I know the media really loves me. These are the questions that will keep popping up.
"Yes, if it is a justifiable thing that if you remove me and the Indian cricket will start doing really well, and if I am the reason for all the bad that is happening to Indian cricket, definitely I would love to step away and play as a player. Ultimately you want India to win. It doesn't matter who is the captain. I was never really in line to become a captain. It was a job or responsibility for me. I have taken that responsibility. It was given to me, I took it. If they want to take it away, I am happy to give it away.
"What is more important is to play for the country and contribute to the team and try to keep the dressing-room atmosphere good. So that whenever youngsters are coming in, they can come and perform. That will be the ultimate achievement for me. Also, it is slightly different. Indian cricket had been used to players coming in toned, ready for international cricket. Now it has changed. You have to grind it through. Cricket has changed and all that. We have had tough times. That's what cricket is all about. You can't win every series you play."
It was interesting that Dhoni said he would love to step aside as captain and play just as a player. For as a pure batsman, Dhoni has not been in great form. His last match-winning performance with the bat came in July 2013, when he won India a triangular-series final in the West Indies. Until that match, he used to win a Man-of-the-Match award once every 13 games. He is currently 38 matches without a match-winning innings.
One of the reasons for that is Dhoni has chosen to take the extra responsibility of batting at No. 6. In the second ODI, though, he came in to bat at No. 4. He showed glimpses of the old Dhoni in scoring 47, but as India kept losing wickets at the other end, he kept getting slower and failed to kick on in the end. He hinted that this could be a long-term shift, and that it was perhaps time a good batsman took that responsibility of batting at No. 6.
"The whole idea was for me to go up and play more freely," Dhoni said. "The last four-five years, I have batted at 6, and there is always some kind of pressure other so I have not been able to bat freely. I wanted to get set and bat freely, but when I got set we lost wickets. Then we had to build some kind of partnership before we could go after the bowlers, then again we lost a couple of wickets. It was not really possible.
"I would like to bat slightly up in the order so I can play a bit more freely. Yes I have adapted to what the team needed of me since 2006, but for the longer run it is important for us to see who is a good batter at No. 6, at 7 or even maybe 5. That is why I dropped (Suresh) Raina (down the order). He has been successful at that slot.
"If I move up there, it should be someone experienced at that slot. It is a difficult slot. You can't just go out there and play the big shot. You don't really have as many big batsmen behind you. If an opener plays a big shot. he thinks twice, but if you are No. 6 or 7 you have to think three times or you don't think at all because you are not worried about anything else."
One of the occupants of that lower-middle-order slot has been Ravindra Jadeja. Now Dhoni has always backed Jadeja, playing an important part in using him as a match-winning bowler in Tests when nobody rated him in the longer formats. Since his shoulder injury, though, Jadeja has struggled a bit in international cricket.
"It doesn't matter who is the captain. I was never really in line to become a captain. It was a job or responsibility for me. If they want to take it away, I am happy to give it away."
That Jadeja plays for Dhoni's IPL team and that he is managed by Dhoni's friend's management agency has always been brought up, and once again, Dhoni was asked about his persistence with and "preservation" of Jadeja. An unflustered Dhoni came up with a cricketing assessment.
"We use every bowler according to his potential," Dhoni said. "I don't like to bowl him in the first 10, but after that he has bowled for us consistently, in the second Powerplay and even in the slog. I have used him late in the innings, and he has bowled three decent overs in the Powerplay. I feel it is very difficult for someone like him to justify his selection because more often than not they don't get to bat. In the last one year even I have not got a decent chance to bat. The only decent chance you get is when you are four-five down in 20 overs.
"To always come in an international game and expect an individual to score a fifty is not really possible, so it is a difficult one. Also, our top order has done really well so we haven't tested the bottom order. You can say these two matches our lower order was tested so it is difficult for him to justify his batting. From bowling point of view, in between he was up and down, but later on, during the World Cup he bowled well and after that here he is bowling well."
Another issue with India in the transition since the World Cup has been to identify a coach and proper supporting staff. When he was asked if there was a correlation between the uncertainty there and the results in Bangladesh, Dhoni did not lose the opportunity to praise the former coach Duncan Fletcher.
"At least indirectly you are saying you are missing Duncan Fletcher," Dhoni said. "I felt he was one guy who was never really appreciated by the media. He did all the hard work. He was with the team for a long time. He went on really tough tours but I don't think we should blame the support staff. Ultimately it is the individuals that go out and adapt and do what is required. I don't think it is the support staff.
"If you are indirectly hinting that we need a coach and all that, we have enough people in the support staff to take care of us. And even if the position of the coach is vacant for some time, it is okay. Don't put just anybody there just because the post is vacant. Then it will have a bad impact in the long run. It takes time to make these decisions, and our team generally doesn't have that time because we keep playing non-stop."
As with the support staff, Dhoni said no big changes were expected in the personnel of the actual squad. "This is the best lot of players we have," Dhoni said. "What we have to think about is, if we are playing in the subcontinent whether we want to go in with the extra spinner, whether we really want fast bowlers who bowl quick but are not good with line and length. At times we have seen they can really go for runs.
"If you see Bhuvi (Bhuvneshwar Kumar), he is not exceptionally quick but even when the batsmen are scoring fast he gets away with it. The only problem is, if he doesn't take wickets the other bowlers are not smart enough to get away with the kind of bowling they do. Overall you have to see what is the best balance and accordingly you move forward."

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo