There couldn't be a more succinct definition of a false dawn in the English language than what we have witnessed on the cricket field between England and India in the last 20 days or so.
This was touted as India’s best chance for retribution after a humiliation suffered three years ago on English shores.
The inspiring victory over Alastair Cook’s deflated England team at Lord’s on July 21 seemed like the dawn of a new era of Indian cricket away from home.
Just over two weeks later, that blissful high was brought crushing down and battered down to such a low that it seemed like a football headline: 10-man England beat, nay, thrashed India—by an innings and 54 runs inside three days.
The margin could've been worse had Stuart Broad's baseball helmet protected his nose from a nasty bouncer.
And so, as we move on to the Oval for the fifth and final Test on August 15, the scenario looks eerily similar to the one 18 months ago when England had toured India in the winter of 2012-13.
From what looked like a certain whitewash in India’s favour after the first Test at Ahmedabad, Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men capitulated to lose the next two matches to go into the final Test of the series with hopes of drawing the series hanging ominously on a flimsy thread.
India did not manage to save the series back then, and considering how they have performed at Southampton and Manchester, the odds are highly in favour of an encore.
A glance at the scorecards of the last two Tests points to only one reason as to why India lost: Their much-famed and hyped batting order failed to show up.
However, with just one Test to go and not much to choose from even with an 18-man squad at their disposal, India need to think ahead.
For all the batting inadequacies, India were also let down by poor captaincy and abysmal fielding.
Dhoni, who has never really had the word "positive" associated with his captaincy in the longer format—inexplicably so given his hugely successful exploits in the limited overs arena—reached a new nadir during this series.
Dhoni’s brand of conservative Test captaincy might pass off in home conditions, where the Indians are historically dominant, but his erratic record away from home is bringing the team down.
Dhoni’s tactics in the last two matches have especially raised concerns. From defensive team selection to setting negative fields and asking his bowlers to bowl a negative line to making seemingly mindless bowling changes, Dhoni appeared lost at sea navigating a ship that was fast sinking.
So farcical have some of his decisions been, such as starting the day on Saturday with Ravindra Jadeja with England in a precarious position, that he has managed to make Alastair Cook, someone who was equally criticised at the beginning of the series for his bland captaincy, look like a Sourav Ganguly.
The problem is that India do not really have a replacement skipper. Virat Kohli has always been talked about as the captain-in-waiting, but his form in this series begs to ask the question whether he is ready for it.
India need a captain who can lead by example and thrive come rain, hail or snow. As things stand, not a single member in India’s squad makes the cut.
If not captaincy yet, Dhoni should at least consider hanging up his gloves. At 33, he isn’t getting any younger, and this was evident in a string of costly errors behind the sticks in this series: from dropping catches to not going for catches, missed stumpings and fumbled run-outs.
India still have a lot to gain from the experience and fighting spirit that Dhoni brings to his batting—case in point being the first innings at Manchester, so he would make an ideal standalone No. 6 batsman.
However, for the specialist and important role of a wicketkeeper, India could do with the infusion of some young and energetic blood, which is abundant in the likes of Sanju Samson, or perhaps even someone older and more experienced like Wriddhiman Saha or Naman Ojha.
Dhoni has the prime examples of Kumar Sangakkara and Brendon McCullum to look at, who have found a new lease as just-batsmen after handing over their gloves in the latter stages of their career.
Dhoni has never played at any other position in his career, but as a leader and someone who is dotingly looked up to, he should consider swallowing some pride and making a few sacrifices and changes for the better of his team.
It is no secret that Dhoni is on the home stretch of what has been a spectacular career as India’s No. 1 choice as wicketkeeper batsman and captain across all formats. But the sign of a true leader is someone who is selfless, especially at a time when India desperately require a shake-up.
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