Dhoni's cluttered mind means it's time for fresh leadership in Tests
India's woeful form and Mahendra Singh Dhoni's ineffective approach in overseas Tests may signal the end of the Jharkhand hero's time as Test captain very soon. Is this the perfect time to pass the baton on to Virat Kohli?
A bizarre field placement, mini bowling spells for non-regulars like Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan and even the decision to bring himself on, Mahendra Singh Dhoni has perhaps tried everything within his reach to overturn his overseas misfortune. Alas, in vain. Even as Virat Kohli added yet another overseas century to his kitty, the final day of India's tour of New Zealand in Wellington finished with the hosts clinching the Test series 1-0 and packing off Dhoni's side without a win in the series.
Dhoni's fourth successive overseas tour loss brings back the pertinent question: Is it time for a change of guard? Is it time for India to take a cue from most top nations and try out split captaincy?
Despite enjoying successes in the 2011 World Cup, 2013 Champions Trophy and almost every series that was played at home in between, there has been contrasting on-field display when the team took the field in foreign conditions. Two successive four-nil losses in England and Australia in 2011-12 and yet Dhoni got a reprieve back then, but a near repeat performance in two-match series in South Africa and New Zealand (1-0 loss in each) does call for attention from the selection committee.
Dhoni's cricketing brain has perhaps, been drained out due to the gruelling schedule and he has often been caught unaware in terms of tactics in the last two series -- against South Africa and New Zealand -- much like it was back in the tours of England and Australia. While losing a series for a team in transition is not the biggest issue faced by a team like India, but to fall flat and looking technically challenged on a level playing field are worrisome.
If it is indeed time for a change of guard, India should look at split captaincy with Virat Kohli leading the side in white flannels and Dhoni resuming duties in two formats -- ODIs and T20s -- where he is tactically better equipped and is perhaps, the best finisher of the game.
Several top Cricket Boards have been far more enterprising and adventurous in their choice of captains. But India's mindset has been very traditional. The pragmatism with which teams have been chosen in recent times - form has triumphed over name and experience - has not reflected with choice of the team leader. Failure in New Zealand will probably give food for thought to the selectors. It will be a good time for the national selectors to take a lesson or two from the likes of England, Australia or South Africa and try out different captains for different formats.
Dhoni has led the side in 13 out of the last 14 overseas Tests that India have played since winning against the West Indies in Jamaica in 2011. Nine out of these 13 have ended in losses while the remaining four have been draws. While these numbers cut a sorry figure for the macho Indian skipper, it is also the manner in which momentum has slipped right out of his hands and landed safely in the opposition camp which puts Dhoni's captaincy acumen in question as far as Test cricket is concerned. On more occasions than one, Dhoni has drawn the wrath of being overtly defensive in his approach. That for a man whose forte has always been to play by his instinct and take his risks is an alarming situation.
If passing on the baton of captaincy in the current scenario is a tough decision to make, Dhoni's heir-apparent Kohli is the clear choice. In a little over three years of Test cricket, Kohli has the distinction of scoring a century each in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. With 1721 runs in 24 Tests, Kohli is far from being a finished product but neither was Dhoni when he was handed the captaincy.
Kohli's knack of playing the role of the savior and pulling the team out of dire consequences on multiple occasions has proved that he has the temperament, ability and the sense to judge a situation to near perfection. He started off as a brash, abrasive kid with a glorious cover drive but has done well to iron out the rough edges in quick time. From what little has been seen of Kohli, one can speculate that a responsibility like captaincy can only bring the best out of the Delhi lad. A move in this direction will not just give India a fresh approach to Test cricket, but also ease the pressure on Dhoni's shoulders of handling the team across all three formats. What it will also do is give the likes of Wriddhiman Saha and even Dinesh Karthik to challenge Dhoni for the wicketkeeper-batsman's spot in the Test side.
For the next three months, India will play most of their cricket in conditions far better suited to them (Asia Cup and World T20 in Bangladesh) before heading to England towards the end of June for a five-match Test series. While success is all but guaranteed when they play limited overs cricket in 'home-like' conditions, it will be prudent to see a new man leading India in whites in England. While a change doesn't necessarily guarantee an immediate overturn of fortune, it will certainly be India's best foot forward.