Toward the end of his post-match chat with Sky Sports' Michael Atherton at the end of the fifth Test at the Oval, which India lost by an innings and 244 runs, one question brought out an instant smile on Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s face.
It was regarding the upcoming limited-overs series against England, including five one-dayers and one Twenty20 International, starting Monday.
The previous three weeks had hardly given Dhoni any reason to smile after his team’s abject and embarrassing surrender against England in the five-match Test series.
Following the 3-1 loss, Dhoni’s away record as Test captain went further south. He has now captained India to 14 losses and eight draws in 28 matches as skipper on foreign soil, recording just six wins over five years.
India have fared miles better under him on the limited-overs circuit, having won a Twenty20 World Cup, a 50-over World Cup and the Champions Trophy in eight highly successful years.
Even though India’s last one-day international win under Dhoni was more than a year ago in the final of the Champions Trophy, the flow of optimism through his tone when he spoke of the upcoming limited-overs games was understandable. Dhoni told Atherton:
We’ve got quite a few interesting cricketers coming in…a few more aggressive ones. Also the format, it’s not as taxing or demanding as the Test format. You get the result in one day. If you’re going through a lean phase, you have 5-10 overs and you can get back to scoring runs. It’s important we get into our grooves, be expressive on the field, leave the Test cricket behind and enjoy the ODIs and T20.
Hearing that latter part, you couldn’t help but think that Dhoni was reflecting on his own defiance with the bat when all his teammates were tumbling over one another, shot down mercilessly by England in the Tests.
His gutsy half-centuries at Old Trafford and the Oval saved India’s face from being blackened further. The long format meant that those knocks were not enough to affect the result of the game. Starting Monday, cometh the situation, they would well be.
However, the limited-overs squad is a tad different from the one that played the Tests. The “interesting” and “aggressive” cricketers Dhoni mentioned who are coming in include the likes of Suresh Raina, Sanju Samson and Umesh Yadav, with Ambati Rayudu, Mohit Sharma, Dhawal Kulkarni and Karn Sharma completing the influx of the Indian Premier League batch of young Indian players.
That being said, the remnants from the Test squad are greater in number: Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja, Stuart Binny, Mohammed Shami, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravichandran Ashwin and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, apart from Dhoni himself.
India will hope that the first four names in the above list, who are bound to be in the starting XI on Monday, magically turn around their form from the Tests. They only have to look back to their purple patch a year ago on these very shores in the Champions Trophy.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India has tried to show some urgency by appointing former India captain and longtime board loyalist Ravi Shastri as team director for the rest of the tour.
Other former players—Sanjay Bangar, Bharat Arun and R Sridhar—form his support staff, while bowling coach Joe Dawes and fielding coach Trevor Penney have been given a break.
Shastri told ESPN Cricinfo that his role is to “oversee everything” and that even head coach Duncan Fletcher, who has retained his position, will be reporting to him. How Fletcher, who has come under considerable pressure from the Indian media following three largely unsuccessful years as head coach, takes to the recent developments is another story.
But right now, what is important for Indian cricket is how the team takes to these kneejerk, superficial changes in management.
Each and every player will know, or should know, that at the end of the day, they are the ones who go out and play, and not the support staff. Fletcher and team may have been ineffective mentors, but they aren’t the reason why India capitulated so badly. Shastri isn’t going to pull out any rabbits from his hat.
That being said, Shastri, for all his loyalty to the BCCI, has always been a spirited, no-nonsense, straight-talking person, at least in matters which do not concern his employers.
If any player is not performing up to his standards, trust Shastri to get the message through, which did not seem the case, at least to the outside world, with Fletcher, who has a rather somnolent tone.
Supporting Shastri are experienced men who have come through the Indian system as players and coaches. Bangar is the most well-known of the three names, as he is credited with the revival of IPL finalists Kings XI Punjab last season.
International cricket is no IPL, but the appointments have brought some positivity to the outlook toward the Indian camp ahead of the ODI series.
In 2011, following a 4-0 loss against England in the Tests, India failed to win a single limited-overs game as well.
The bright side is that it can’t get any worse this time. Surely.