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Dhoni's Time Is Up, But Whose Time Has Arrived?

Human tendency preserves memories by associating them with easily recognizable signals. Cricket by virtue of its inherent nature furnishes numerical statistics for this function. The two-test series in New Zealand may not be introspected with fond moments, but the bottom-line generated in the process has imparted a deep imprint on the timeline of Indian cricket. The Indian team and MS Dhoni in particular, now formally possess a dubious statistical feat - 4 consecutive away tours losses and the worst record for an Indian skipper in this context. Apart from getting into a sluggish pit of defeats away from home, the longevity and its consistency is now inducing emotions and retrospection from a critical aperture of the microscope. Naturally such a phase is succeeded by the exercise of identifying a scapegoat, and in the current case Dhoni is the face of all ills.

The primary objection to Dhoni's leadership is his perceivable inactive demeanor on the field. Real-time illustrations endorse such criticism and peers ascribe the safety-first approach as the root cause for this observation. Those backing his decisions advocate the good old logic of a-captain-being-as-good-as-his-team. While both views make sense, results notwithstanding many would agree that Dhoni's style of marshaling resources has not endured much change over the years. So is MS Dhoni a better limited-overs skipper than a test captain?

Recently Pietersen put up an interesting assessment of Mitchell Johnson's stunning recent success. He suggested that pace invariably empowers instinct to overwhelm thought process and cause indecision at the point of contact. In a parallel illustration from other genres of sport - rapid shooting & rapid chess, reaction time or the lack of is an important aspect of competition. Such events segregate the smart group of contestants from the rest. Additionally it is also true that winners of these formats are not necessarily the obvious champions in other routine versions of the respective sports. Dhoni's leadership case can be revisited from this point.

Discounting isolated examples, Dhoni has always been touted as a smart leader, one who can outwit the opponent by his unforeseen moves. T20 & ODI cricket liberates captains to execute those out-of-the-box ideas more successfully as the rapid pace of progress forbids the opposition to analyse. On the contrary, in test cricket batsmen have enough time on their hands to see off a good spell, negotiate tough phases of pressure and a mindset of batting long. With the database of 6-7 years of Dhoni's leadership, you just sense that his wit is exceptionally superior in a 100m race but at par with most others in a marathon. Or perhaps given the arsenal he intentionally abbreviates the striking zone to ensure minimal damage. 

Weak, unconvincing outbursts for change in personnel, responsibility are a routine feature in Indian cricket. The depth in the concerns and subsequent criticism in the current case have swelled more so after the win-less tour to New Zealand. Onlookers have been aware that a young team deserves time and expecting much would be futile at either ends, but inability to convert winning positions against a lower ranked side has not got down well with many. After the conclusion of the tour, Dhoni's comments hinted that the team was prepared for even worse possibilities over the last 2 months. Yes pleasant positives have emerged but ultimately the scoreline calls for a broader assessment of the situation.

While the generic consensus points to the demotion of Dhoni, there is no unanimity on the successor's rise. Barring Virat & to some extent Rohit Sharma, nobody in the team can claim to boast of leadership credentials. Graeme Smith has been the cited example in support of proposing Virat's promotion, but given his purple patch it would be a massive gamble to hand over the baton to him during this tough transition phase. India's away woes will face its sternest test in England & Australia later this year and lack of home tests in 2014 would render the new skipper devoid of that deserving cushion. Also Virat's temperament has been topic invoking diverse views and hence some preliminary examination must be performed before entrusting him with the big job. In all probabilities, Dhoni has to be India's best bet for its title defence in 2015 and it wouldn't make much sense to experiment the two-captain theory under such circumstances. 

Ironically while looking at this story it is intriguing to note that India's best skipper (statistically) now possesses the record for the worst numbers as well! India's 0-10 record has to be fragmented into phases of lost form of established players, gradual exit of legends and coalescence of a unit featuring young, inexperienced names. Dhoni never had that magical wand in test cricket but his presence at the helm has ensured that young players have been drafted into the system seamlessly and the dressing room environment is rift-free. Results, the manner in which they are coming and the consistency of this bad habit has created that option to look beyond Dhoni and Virat is a viable answer. The passage of the reins is a matter of time but can go awry if not timed right; perhaps the upcoming Asia Cup can throw some light on this pertinent question.

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