When India lost the T20 series to South Africa, it was a thoroughly one-sided win for the visitors, with the Indians largely left clueless about what they really needed to do to pull their weight in the series. The ODIs were then a different story, though in the end, the South Africans more than asserted their claim to cricketing dominance, yet again by the biggest of margins.
After the defeat in the fifth ODI in Wankhede on Sunday, a ground where Indians had won all their previous matches against the Proteas, mud will be slung again at the Indian skipper MS Dhoni. By now, it’s come to be an expected pattern. The nature of reactions towards Dhoni these days is based on how the team’s performance goes. Following the second and fourth one-dayers, Dhoni was cheered like there was no tomorrow and as if he was the sole messiah of Indian cricket.
While criticising the team captain for the rest of the team’s ineptitudes is, for most the part, unjustified, there are still some key aspects in which Dhoni’s captaincy becomes the focal point of scrutiny. His teammates’ performance, or lack thereof, cannot be blamed upon him entirely. But seeing that he’s responsible for the composition of the 11-man team that is put up, undoubtedly Dhoni’s error in judgement cost the team’s chances heavily.
On a track that offered no assistance to the bowlers, it was bad enough that India lost the toss. But to go with an unchanged squad from the fourth ODI... It was something largely unexpected. For one, we never had the bowling resources to match up to the South Africans and as such were – for all intents and purposes – making do with the best that was available.
Certain bowling names are exceptions in the last generalisation, of course. Irrespective of what transpired in the final ODI, Bhuvneshwar Kumar is a threat, even as Harbhajan Singh and Amit Mishra did well to step into R. Ashwin’s shoes. However, it’s the selection of the likes of Mohit Sharma and Axar Patel, and their inclusion in the team that’s the most baffling.
It’s here then that Dhoni’s so-famed intuitiveness starts to falter, with nothing backing these players’ inclusion in the squad. A similar note can be made about Suresh Raina being included in the squad as well. Apart from the fourth one-dayer, Raina has pretty much been a sedate member of the team which, when juxtaposed with what Dhoni had to say about the team lacking finishers in the aftermath of the third ODI, becomes quite a paradox.
So does that mean that Raina’s presence in the team is arbitrary? Raina’s inconsistency has been jarring for a while now and still they insist that he is a player who could turn the game around. This has added to the burden on the remaining players in the team. Does it then imply that we are so short of cricketers that we continue to pick someone who clearly needs some time out of the game?
If this weren’t enough, this series also exposed the way Ajinkya Rahane was treated throughout its course. If it wasn’t such a serious matter, it would have been funny the way his position was tossed around like playing musical chairs.
From being sent out in at no. 3 in the first two matches to having to wait to be sent in at no. 6, Rahane bore the brunt of the team’s – and by extension, Dhoni’s – experimentations. And while he came up with promising scores in the previous four matches, it was his impeccable 87-run compilation, with 9 fours and 3 sixes, in the final that answered for all the toying around he’d had to endure in the series. By doing so, Rahane has amply vouched for his credentials in making that batting position his own, ensuring there’s no more jostling around looking for a player who can come in at no. 4.
And Dhoni’s ad-hoc answers on these subjects are even more damning than all his sarcastic rejoinders put together, rattling on the so-called spinning all-rounders, in which he grouped Stuart Binny, Axar Patel and Ravindra Jadeja. Going by his words, it looks like an entire nation with a competent domestic circuit has been capable of producing only three all-rounders, of whom one had only one disastrous appearance in the series, and another who was not even selected as a part of the 15-man squad because of his poor performances.
Much like the dwindling of his captaincy acumen, Dhoni’s words too have started to get more and more confusing. Where once his words, despite their bite, never failed to inject a wry humour into proceedings, these days he comes across as being bemused and disoriented with the happenings around him. Needless to say, Dhoni’s continuing disjointedness punctuates the urgency of the need to address the issues, to borrow from the man again.
Tackling the problems festering within the team needs to start with Dhoni himself. It may not be wrong for a captain to back his players whenever required, but a captain placing his trust has to be reciprocated by the players too. With many of Dhoni’s choicest picks disappointing in this regard, leaving the rest of the team sputtering, a change in the majority of the team’s composition has become necessary.
And while wanting to err on the side of caution may still prompt a call for Dhoni to helm the team, experimenting with a newer team composition wouldn’t go remiss. Not only to restructure the team, but also to rebuild a nation’s flagging morale.