In the space of a little more than 48 hours, Indian Cricket has entered a state of flux, a huge one at that, although in the long run, the calls which were taken on Monday (2/1/2017) and Wednesday (4/1/2017) by completely different parties and for completely different reasons, may well benefit Indian Cricket.
On Monday, the Supreme Court removed Anurag Thakur and Ajay Shirke from their respective positions as the President and Secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). According to India’s apex court, Thakur had “rendered himself unfit for continuance as President of BCCI” because he “obstructed and impeded the implementation of the directions contained in the judgment”. Shirke was also asked to “cease” from his association with the BCCI.
The biggest revelation, however, came last night, when India’s most successful one-day captain MS Dhoni relinquished India’s limited-overs (ODI and T20I) captaincy just 11 days before the three-ODI series against England commences.
The general consensus was that Dhoni, 35, will lead India at the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 in England in June, and then take a call on his international cricket career, having already retired from Test cricket in December 2014, three-fourth of the way through the 2014-15 Test series between Australia and India. This revelation has come in almost the same fashion as his announcing retirement from Test cricket was: out of the blue and with a lot of the cricket watching public questioning “why now?”!
How will resigning captaincy affect MS Dhoni?
India’s 2011 World Cup winning captain has been on a downward spiral as a batsman and as India’s captain since the Men in Blue lost to Australia in the semi-final of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015.
His powers have been on the wane and in the last 18 months, Dhoni the batsman has, at least on a couple of occasions, failed to take India across the finishing line from positions which were by no means daunting for his standards and innate ability to finish off matches.
In the first of India’s five-ODI series against South Africa in October 2015, India were set a target of 304, which they were on course to achieve. Rohit Sharma had anchored the Indian innings extremely well and put India in an enviable position ahead of the final 10 overs. India needed to get 90 runs off 60 balls, with Rohit and the then Indian ODI skipper in the middle. The Men in Blue were expected to go 1-0 up in the series and make no mistake, they were in a position to!
But, strangely, Dhoni was totally unable to time the ball, was playing shots that you would have seldom seen him play and more importantly, he could not find the boundaries. The South African bowlers, Kagiso Rabada, in particular, had to be credited for strangulating the Indian skipper, who, however, was not in his zone and his strange innings in Kanpur indicated to me that his days as an international cricketer may well be numbered.
India required 11 off the final over, which was to be bowled by Rabada, who bowled quick and mixed the length of his deliveries. Dhoni, though, was not in his element and failed to take India over the finishing line, as they lost by five runs. The hard-hitting Ranchi batsman made 31 (30), an innings in which he staggeringly found the boundary only once.
Fast forward eight months (June 2016) and Dhoni was on an Indian tour of Zimbabwe for only the second time since making his Indian debut in 2004, let alone leading a second-string Indian side bereft of Virat Kohli, Ravichandran Ashwin, Rohit, and other A-listers in the Indian Test, ODI and T20I sides.
Dhoni didn’t have to bat in any of the three ODIs, which India won by nine (first ODI), eight (second ODI) and ten wickets (third ODI). The three-ODI series was followed by a three-T20I series, in which hosts Zimbabwe were likely to challenge India more than they did in the ODIs.
India won the toss in the first T20I and Dhoni, as he has often preferred to, opted to field first. Zimbabwe made 170 and set India a gettable 171.
Having not batted on the tour so far, Dhoni was walking into yet another pressure situation, just as the one against South Africa in Kanpur was. The differences were the quality of bowling attacks and the format of the game. India needed 81 off 46 balls when the Indian skipper walked into bat. And the visitors lost by two runs, despite only needing eight runs off the last over, which was delivered by Neville Madziva, who bowled his nation to a thrilling win.
As for Dhoni, he made 19 off 17 balls and had once again lost a last-over tussle because he was unable to find the boundaries at a time when India could not do without them. Unusually, Dhoni was playing second fiddle to the likes of Axar Patel and Rishi Dhawan, and despite his best efforts, India ended up losing a close game.
MS Dhoni averages almost 36 in his last 18 ODI innings for India, and more importantly, than his batting average, Dhoni has been unable to play the big strokes with the kind of ease he used to two-three years ago. Consequently, he scores his runs at a far lesser rate, as well.
And, because he seems to have lost his innate ability to strike the ball cleanly and clear the boundary ropes nonchalantly, I do not think relinquishing ODI and T20I captaincy is going to make a huge difference to Dhoni the batsman.
However, owing to the aforementioned limitations, Dhoni has to bat at a position higher than where he generally has in ODIs for India, at No. 5 and No. 6. The former Indian skipper ideally has to bat at No. 4, behind Kohli at No. 3, if he is to contribute to the team’s cause as a batsman.
Let us not forget that Dhoni is an exceptional wicket-keeper, in the presence of whom the batsmen can ill afford to relax. So, although Dhoni the batsman has lost his aura a little, Dhoni the wicket-keeper will continue to hold his own and be an asset to India in ODIs and T20Is with his agility and athleticism behind the stumps.
Why has MS Dhoni quit ODI and T20I captaincy?
Dhoni, since he quit Test cricket, has had long layoffs between one limited-overs series assignment and another, and he also spends a lot of time without playing competitive cricket and away from his troops. For instance, Dhoni will not have had any match practice ahead of the ODI series against England. So, when he himself isn’t in the best shape for an important series, then being the captain only increases the burden on him further.
Therefore, Dhoni has made the right decision, albeit the timing of the announcement has taken the cricketing world by storm.
Who will captain India now in ODIs and T20Is?
Kohli is the automatic choice to captain India in all three formats. Though the transition from captaining India in Tests alone should not be huge, Kohli now has a challenge on his hands to ensure that India do well in all three formats. The responsibilities that Kohli also has to shoulder are leading the side and batting at No. 3.
The Lodha recommendations, if implemented, will likely ensure that there’s more transparency to what the BCCI does and how it operates. For the moment, a sense of ambiguity exists, with a promised “panel of administrators” to be announced only after a fortnight, on January 19th. But the dismissals of Anurag Thakur and Ajay Shirke should not really affect the national side or its forthcoming assignments.