Nagpur: Mahendra Singh Dhoni may be a captain in decline - those who have done the job at the highest level insist it comes with a limited shelf life - but he can never be accused of not being self-aware. Dhoni has been allowed to run the team as he pleased, but this is not necessarily because he was specially favoured or because he was indispensable. Rather, he has brought a certain nous to sussing out situations and people, and more often than not his gambles have paid off.
Recently, however, this has not proved to be the case. India have lost 10 of the last 17 Test matches they have played, and the draw in Nagpur was as good as loss as it put paid to a proud home record. India had not lost to England at home since 1985, and this particular statistic was hard-earned.
When Alastair Cook's team ensured that David Gower was put in the shade, it should have been a seminal moment, but to Dhoni, it did not feel that way, for he has not had to share India's overseas pains as much in his 73-Test career. "It was a tough series," said Dhoni after the Nagpur Test. "But there are not many things that will come close to the loss in the 2007 50-over World Cup. This is not close to that."
It goes without saying that Indian fans might feel differently. However, Dhoni can only be expected to speak for himself, and he has always maintained that it was the 50-over game that suited his style of play best, and challenged him the most. In the Test set up, Dhoni could fall back on some wonderful players of the highest pedigree, and this explains his success rate to an extent.
Dhoni's pain at the 2007 setback was exacerbated by the fact that India was on the upswing then, as compared to now, when a period of transition is inevitable. "We are going through a tough stage where we will have to see what works for us. A few big players have left us," said Dhoni. "The youngsters will have to fill the gaps and seniors will have to take extra responsibility till the juniors start getting runs or start taking wickets," he added, sounding a bit helpless about the situation.
Dhoni was also quick to admit that India were found wanting, especially in their traditional strength, the batting. "In this series, the batting was lacking. We needed to score more runs," said Dhoni. "Mumbai was a tough wicket but the others were not, but we were not able to get big partnerships."
As the calls for wholesale changes have been met with voices of reason pleading for more faith in proven entities, Dhoni respectfully batted for change. It's worth remembering that Dhoni did not come from great pedigree, but made the most of the chances he was afforded. "If you don't give youngsters chances, how do you know whether they are good enough or not?" asked Dhoni. "You won't get all of them scoring big hundreds in the first game. Some of the big players also started off with four or five zeros. You have to back youngsters who you think are very talented, who you think can succeed at the top level."
Dhoni also suggested that no good would come from judging a Ravindra Jadeja or a Piyush Chawla merely on the performance of the Nagpur Test. "It's very difficult if you assess a youngster based on one performance," he said. "You have to see how they go once they play a few games. They will get the exposure. Not to forget Piyush came after five years so he will feel the nerves. It wasn't a fantastic wicket for him to bowl."