Is Mahendra Singh Dhoni an obstinate egoist who refuses to budge even if it derails India's World Cup campaign? Judging by the media criticism of Piyush Chawla's continued presence in the playing XI and the Indian captain's stout defence of the bowler, the majority would say yes, he is. It is a judgment fraught with danger if one goes by Dhoni's past record, where he has done what he has deemed best despite stiff opposition to his ideas and he has, more often than not, been proved right.
There have been times when his field placements have been baffling and bowling changes perplexing. When unorthodox methods don't work, they are called daft decisions and when they work, the same methods are praised as the work of a genius.
Walking the thin line
It is like hailing Sehwag as a gifted batsman when he hits a good length ball for a six and a silly, immature player when he gets out to a similar ball in an attempt to repeat that stroke. The line separating an inspirational move from a ludicrous one is too thin, especially when that one decision could decide the fortune of the entire team.
Dhoni is an admirable leader, whom the young and the old in the team never tire of praising. In a team where at one end of the scale lies the mind-numbing talent and experience of a Tendulkar and at the other the inexperience of an apprentice like Chawla, forging a cohesive, strong unit is a challenge, which Dhoni has performed well so far.
In this team, the rookie and the veteran have blended to almost perfection and given shape to a unit on which rests India's hopes of winning the World Cup. That is the reason why the Chawla issue has become one of paramount importance. India, whose bowling has been a concern, had pinned a lot of faith in the leg spinner. That the weight of expectations and his lack of control have become a burden for the bowler is evident to everyone. He has been persisted with so far in the hope that in a team where only Zaheer Khan appears to be a match-winner, Chawla will perform the role of a surprise weapon by putting to profitable use the vast repertoire of a leg-spinner.
Worth the risk?
The question Dhoni needs to ask himself is that in matches where a defeat would mean getting knocked out of the World Cup, is Chawla worth the risk? Why not get in the other spinner in the side, Ashwin, as quickly as possible, so that in a crunch, the off spinner is not short of confidence. There are many questions which must be haunting this team at the moment and it won't be just its bowling. Its fielding lacks sharpness and, all of a sudden, even its batting under pressure appears vulnerable.
It is good that all these shortcomings have surfaced very early in the tournament and there is time to introspect and find a proper way ahead. Dhoni needs to get his strategy as well as gambling instincts right, as the stakes are too high.
(Column Big Picture will return after the World Cup)