Ian Chappell

Give it to the keeper

Why India should seriously consider retaining Dhoni as captain for the rest of the series, whether Kumble plays or not


Kumble or Dhoni? The Mohali Test has made the decision all too easy © AFP
Former Australia wicketkeeper Ian Healy is a sceptic when it comes to captaincy. He believes any suggestion it plays a significant role in achieving victory is purely self-promotion by the fraternity of skippers.
For the benefit of the court I'm displaying Exhibit A, a video of Australia's second innings at Bangalore. Specifically, the period in the game when Anil Kumble was off the field and stand-in captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni led a vibrant India, a team that looked far superior to the one that performed in pedestrian mode a few hours later when the appointed captain was back in charge.
For the true non-believers this is Exhibit B: a video of the second Test, when Dhoni had the captaincy all to himself and a rampant India won by the biggest run margin in their history. Your honour, I rest my case for Dhoni to be appointed captain of India, not just for limited-overs and Twenty20 matches but Tests as well.
Yes, that's right, a change of captain mid-series.
It's not such a dramatic move if you consider the original reason for choosing Kumble as captain of the Test side. He was the ideal person to fill in for a short period until Dhoni was ready to do the job and also to avoid burdening the young keeper-batsman with a tough tour of Australia as his opening gambit in the Test captain's job.
Anybody who watched the Mohali Test and still thinks Dhoni needs more grooming has attended too many dog shows. Dhoni is not only ready, his captaincy in Mohali was a major reason why India currently holds the psychological upper hand in this Test series.
If India doesn't make the permanent change to Dhoni, they risk handing Australia a get-out-of-jail card. Whether Australia is in the right frame of mind to put that card to full use in this series is another question, but why would India want to dig an escape tunnel and chance their opponents stumbling upon it?
The best way to beat a good team is to attack them and try to provoke mistakes. In Bangalore, Kumble played a waiting game and Australia prospered, while in Mohali, Dhoni went on the offensive from the moment he won the toss, which helped send his opponents crashing to defeat.
There's no doubt winning the toss made a huge difference, and having Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir set off aggressively also helped, but Dhoni did plenty to assist his own and the team's cause. Most importantly he created an atmosphere where the players enjoyed the contest. Sehwag was a classic example. He had a smile from start to finish, enjoying his team-mates' success and revelling in the fact that India was playing an aggressive brand of cricket. Dhoni is wise to involve his team in an exciting contest where victory is sought from the first ball, because it galvanises the better players in his team.
Zaheer Khan was like a man possessed, heavily involved in placing his field, and Sachin Tendulkar behaved like an exuberant 18-year-old when he took a vital catch in the second innings. However, the most conclusive evidence that Dhoni had created a winning atmosphere came from the opposing captain.
After the match Ricky Ponting said that India had outplayed his side from start to finish in all aspects, even fielding. An aging Indian side outfielding an athletic Australian side - the next thing you know, Dhoni will be turning water into wine.
Whether the Indian selectors choose Kumble as a bowler for the third Test is dependent on whether he's fit enough to perform near his best. If he is, then he returns to the team because he has been a warrior for India and has brought great credit to himself and his country.
It would be a blessing in disguise to relieve Kumble of the captaincy so he can just concentrate on bowling well and rounding out a wonderful career in a manner befitting a successful and classy cricketer.
It has been said that good captaincy is like pornography - it's hard to define but you know it when you see it. Usually when you do see it, a victory soon follows and after Dhoni's great performance at Mohali, it might be the right time to ask Healy if he still thinks good captaincy doesn't affect the result of a match.