Indian Cricket: Mahendra Singh Dhoni Going the Kapil Way?

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Indian Cricket: Mahendra Singh Dhoni Going the Kapil Way?
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Kapil Dev Nikhanj and Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Two charismatic skippers with winning ways.

The former led Team India to an epochal triumph in the 1983 World Cup, a victory that led to a radical power shift within the ICC. The Reliance World Cup followed in 1987. The circle was complete. The colonised were now king-makers.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni was fortunate to be selected skipper for the inaugural 2007 T20 World Cup. He  thrust a young, inexperienced team to the pinnacle in a format ignored by the bigger guns—Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble and Saurav Ganguly.

His fortunes have been on an upswing ever since. He replaced Anil Kumble on his retirement and to date has not lost a Test series.

He is arguably the most successful Indian captain ever. Under his leadership, Team India won the ICC ODI World Cup this year for the first time in 28 years. They have also achieved the coveted No. 1 ranking in Test cricket.

27 years ago

Cast your memory back 27 years and you will discover that the World Cup triumph was a fleeting honeymoon for the then captain, Kapil Dev.

The West Indies were the dominant side of that decade, and their loss to India at Lords’ was galling. Clive Lloyd and his men were in no mood to surrender their regal status. The tour to India in 1984 saw them at their savage best. The pace bowlers, led by Malcolm Marshall, were mean and vicious. The Indians were thumped 3-0 in a six Test series, surrendering the first, third and fifth Tests. To add insult to injury, the hosts were then hammered 6-0 in the ODIs.

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Dev felt the selectors’ ire. He was stripped of the captaincy.

Leadership reverted to Sunil Gavaskar who led India to one of its finest ODI victories at the 1985 Benson & Hedges Cup. Gavaskar , in his finest hour, handed the reins back to Kapil, preferring to focus on his batting for the rest of his career.

Dev enjoyed two more years in the hot seat until the Reliance Cup debacle in the semifinals. A loose shot compounded the ignominy of defeat at home. The selectors’ felt batting bravado overrode the common sense expected from a leading light. Kapil never captained Team India again. Dilip Vengsarkar, who sat out the semifinal suffering from a stomach ailment, was chosen as skipper in his place.

MS Dhoni’s rise and rise

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, like Kapil, hails from a small town, Ranchi. An all-rounder as well, in the sense that he is an extremely good striker of the ball and a wicket-keeper, Mahi is the epitome of rustic civility and charm.

He fitted into a side boasting established stars such as Tendulkar, Ganguly, Laxman, Kumble, Dravid, Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh. His style quotient and his flowing locks made him an instant hit with the Indian populace.

His elevation to the captaincy was an indication of how far cricket has spread beyond large urban centres such as Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, New Delhi and Kolkatta.

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Dhoni is extremely fortunate to have the support and belief of the stalwarts in the team. He is his own man, though. The final decision rests on his back. He shoulders criticism with equanimity.

However, his personal form in the longer format of the game leaves a lot to be desired. A string of Test victories have allowed his batting to escape closer scrutiny. His Midas touch has extended to the IPL where his team Chennai Super Kings are champions twice over.

However, the sting in the tail is harshest when things are not going your way. Every strength has its perversity.

Perspectives change. Concavity suddenly becomes convexity. Errors in judgment are glaringly magnified.

And so it is now.

Is the 2-0 defeat the beginning of the end for Mahendra Singh Dhoni?

Just four months after his most glorious moment in the cricketing sun, Dhoni finds himself having to rise to the occasion once more. Can he lead from the front as he so ably demonstrated in the World Cup final, promoting himself up the order to nullify Muttiah Muralitharan?

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Is there spirit in the Jharkhand native and his men, spirit enough to restore fading glory and reinvigorate drooping shoulders?

Similar answers were sought from the young man during the 2011 World Cup. His detractors were forced to eat their words. Can MS conjure up an encore?

Yuvraj Singh and Gautam Gambhir

As MS Dhoni finds himself at the crossroads once more, Indian selectors are looking beyond the talismanic chosen one.

Are there any serious challengers to the throne?

Two candidates spring to mind.

Yuvraj Singh, who enjoyed a renaissance during the World Cup, is raring for an opportunity in the longer format of the game. He has long sat out in the shadows of giants.

Gautam Gambhir is another—the most expensive player in the IPL.

Virender Sehwag is a long shot, given his expressed disinterest.

Dhoni’s spot in the shorter format (T20 and ODIs) is undeniable. But has he compromised his place in the Test XI? Is he the best man for the purists?

Two more Tests in the series against England will lift the curtain further on an enigma. Is Dhoni lucky or his team?

Could MS Dhoni lose his crown?

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A victory and a draw will make sure that India keep their No.1 ranking. Fans’ memories are fickle and a series loss with the right window dressing and advertising may yet be paraded as a win.

Should Dhoni and his men pull off a Pyrrhic victory against England, he can be assured of his continuance as Indian skipper.

A whitewash, though, will have critics baying for blood.

The board is clear of pieces. It’s end game.

Your move, MS.

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