MS Dhoni, the quintessential one-day cricketer and its supreme leader, is also in many ways symptomatic of the crisis the game is facing today.
It is a crisis which threatens Test cricket's appeal and popularity in the face of a massive invasion by the shorter version of the game.
It may be no coincidence that the player, who possesses all the outstanding qualities that stand out in the shorter version of the game, lacks the skills and perhaps even motivation, to leave a lasting imprint on its five-day format.
It is not my case here to belittle or deride the man, whose intuitive mastery of the shorter format allows him to balance perfectly the staid and explosive spurts in his batting for the team's good.
Nor am I in any way detracting anything from his assertive, firm yet calm leadership skills that speaks of a man in complete control of himself and his surroundings. It is a phenomenal achievement, something Dhoni, his admirers and the country should be proud of.
Take the same man away from the one-day context and visualise him in the Test format and one finds a personality transformation beyond recognition. Gone are those sure steps, those subtle movements on the field and gestures that command respect of the opposition and loyalty from his own men.
A man lost
The "captain cool" for his legion of admirers, is a man lost in a desert storm, not sure of where he stands and in which direction to move. One could put this loss of control to the collective and abject failure of his team, but what is a leader worth if he can't inspire his men when in retreat. In similar situations in a one-day game, Dhoni is a match-winner, single-handedly fashioning a victory, where a defeat looks impending.
What could be the reason? Are the skills required for the longer version of the game so different and demanding that they are difficult to surmount even for a man like Dhoni, who epitomises a superhuman fighting spirit and self-confidence when the time-span of the contest gets shrunk?
Or is it that the man has no appetite for a long-drawn battle, where the final duel is won or lost on the strength of your staying power, sound technique and the ability to think ahead, not in terms of an hour but even days.
Whatever the reasons may be, and there are better experts to dwell on that, the moot point is that Dhoni, the Test cricketer is not even a wounded shadow of the tiger he is of one-day cricket.
Over to the BCCI
He has himself given hints that he would like to preserve himself for two of the three formats of the game, otherwise he could burn out with sheer exhaustion and suddenly vanish from the radar. The suggestion has come from him and it is for the administrators and the selectors to respond now.
Do we need Dhoni, the bumbling, unsure Test cricketer or the Man who is the undisputed king of one-day cricket? The answer I guess is simple, without letting emotions, semantics and sentimentality creep into this debate.
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