There’s something in common between MS Dhoni of five years ago and the Alastair Cook that we see now. Both were handed the Test captaincy at the same age (27) when a change of guard was inevitable. Leadership wasn’t thrust upon them abruptly. Rather, the two served as understudy to their previous captains: Cook briefly to Andrew Strauss and Dhoni to Anil Kumble.
There are the odd differences too. Cook comes across as slightly studious. Before arriving in India, he apparently carried a notebook to jot down Test-specific thoughts. Would Dhoni have done any of that? Never.
In his initial years as captain, Dhoni was still in love with life and bikes, ever carrying a free spirit to the field. He relied on instinct that never failed him. As he grew in stature, he became assertive. In 2008, he wasn’t loath to let the selectors know that Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid had outlived their welcome in ODIs. The fruit of his bold, but unpopular decisions, culminated in a World Cup win.
While his captaincy record in ODIs, regardless of what he achieves from here, will be written in jewelled letters, it’s his Test graph that’s becoming a cause for concern.
Dhoni is a triumph away from equalling Sourav Ganguly’s record (21) as the most successful Indian skipper in Tests. He may achieve the feat in the ongoing series, right in front of Dada who is enjoying his retirement life in the commentary box. But with only five overseas victories, Dhoni’s win percentage is a poor 26 to a commendable 68 at home.
What’s more, his record in the last year-and-a-half has been nothing but disappointing. Of the 14 Tests he’s led India in since June 2011, Dhoni has lost eight (four in England, three in Australia — Sehwag was the captain in the fourth Test — and the one in Mumbai), won five and drawn one. That’s a win percentage of less than 36. India’s next big assignment is against the visiting Aussies. They are then set to travel to South Africa. No easy pickings.
It is felt Dhoni is more at ease as an ODI captain. Where Tests are concerned, he seems to have left the ‘unpopular’ decisions to the selectors. An opportunity was lost in Australia to hand an in-form Rohit Sharma his Test cap. Meanwhile, a batting superstar is on his last legs but continues to play on, while the side’s premier fast bowler’s limbs can no longer withstand the pressure of the five-day format.
As a player, Dhoni is not at par with his contemporaries at this point. Mahela Jayawardene, Graeme Smith and Michael Clarke (what a season the Australian skipper is having!) have, at some stage, taken their game to a new level. Dhoni has played a few battling innings here and there, but when was the last time he played an impact knock wearing the whites?
Ganguly had once said that five years is a lot of time as captain. Dhoni may be realising it now just as Cook will in future.