Former Australian wicketkeeper Ian Healy is a sceptic when it comes to captaincy. He believes any suggestion that it plays a significant role in achieving victory is purely self-promotion by the fraternity of skippers.
For the benefit of the court I’m displaying exhibit A, a video of Australia’s second innings in Bangalore. The period in the game when Anil Kumble was off the field and stand-in captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni led a vibrant India, a team that looked far superior to the one that performed in pedestrian mode a few hours later when the appointed skipper was back in charge.
For the true non-believers, this is exhibit B, a video of the second Test when Dhoni had the captaincy all to himself and a rampant India won by the biggest run margin in their history. Your honour, I rest my case for Dhoni to be appointed captain of India, not just for limited overs and T20 matches but the Tests as well.
Yes, that’s right, a change of captain mid-series.
It’s not such a dramatic move if you consider the original reason for choosing Kumble as captain of the Test side. He was the ideal person to fill in for a short period until Dhoni was ready to do the job and also to avoid burdening the young keeper-batsman with a tough Australian tour for his opening gambit as Test captain.
Anybody who watched the Mohali Test and still thinks Dhoni needs more grooming has attended too many dog shows. Dhoni is not only ready, his captaincy in Mohali was a major reason why India currently hold the psychological upper hand in this Test series.
If India don’t make the permanent change to Dhoni, they risk handing Australia a get out of gaol card. Whether Australia are in the right frame of mind to put that card to full use in this series is another question. The best way to beat a good team is to attack it and try to provoke mistakes. In Bangalore, Kumble played a waiting game and Australia prospered. From the moment he won the toss in Mohali, Dhoni went on the offensive.
There’s no doubt winning the toss made a huge difference and having Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir set off aggressively also helped, but Dhoni did plenty to assist his own and the team’s cause.
Most importantly, he created an atmosphere where the players enjoyed the contest. Sehwag was a classic example. He had a smile from start to finish, enjoying his teammates’ success and revelling in the fact that India were playing an aggressive brand of cricket.
Zaheer Khan was like a man possessed, heavily involved in placing his field, and Sachin Tendulkar behaved like an exuberant 18-year-old when he took a vital catch in the second innings. However, the most conclusive evidence that Dhoni had created a winning atmosphere in the Indian team came from the opposing captain.
After the match, Ricky Ponting said, “India outplayed us from start to finish in all aspects, even fielding.” An aging Indian side out-fielding an athletic Australian side, the next thing Dhoni will be turning water into wine.
Whether the Indian selectors choose Kumble as a bowler for the third Test is dependant on whether he’s fit enough to perform near his best. If he is, then he returns to the team because he has been a warrior for India.
It would be a blessing in disguise to relieve Kumble of the captaincy so he can just concentrate on bowling well.
It has been said that good captaincy is like pornography; it’s hard to define but you know it when you see it. Usually, when you do see it a victory soon follows, and after Dhoni’s great performance in Mohali, it might be the right time to ask Healy if he still thinks good captaincy doesn’t affect the result of a match.