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HindustanTimes Sat,23 Aug 2014
Is captain Dhoni letting too many matches slip away?
Sanjjeev K Samyal, Hindustan Times
Mumbai, February 18, 2014
First Published: 21:38 IST(18/2/2014)
Last Updated: 02:21 IST(19/2/2014)

Can there be any excuse for losing a series against this New Zealand side? Tuesday's is the fourth straight series defeat for India away from home, but the one most humiliating.

In the five-game one-day and two-game Test contests, the team returns without a single win. And, they were not dealing with the pace of Dale Steyn, the bounce of Mitchell Johnson or the swing of James Anderson; neither the wickets were unplayable.

Take out Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor, the Kiwis are, at best, a mediocre side.

The visitors dominated the first innings of the second Test and staged a fightback in the second innings, but at the end of it they have nothing to show for in terms of results. The fact is, for these two periods of play, they played equally poor cricket to lose huge ground.
As the decision makers in Indian cricket sift through the rubble of their team's disastrous show in the Tests as well as the one-dayers, it's time to make some tough calls.

The last couple of months have seen India lose back-to-back Test series, playing overseas. They shouldn't have lost either. Against South Africa MS Dhoni's men should have taken the lead, when they dominated the first Test only to fritter away the advantage. In New Zealand they had great opportunities to win both. It's about seizing the decisive moments and that is where Dhoni has been found short in the art of captaincy post-2011. It can also be referred to as the Duncan Fletcher-era.

HT poll result: MS Dhoni should make way for a new captain in Tests

Read: Team improving, says Dhoni after losing Test series to New Zealand

The Dhoni-Fletcher combination has simply not clicked. The great Australian captain, Ian Chappell, has always insisted that captains have a shelf life. Indian selectors have to take this view seriously.

It's about taking that one wicket when the bowling unit has hit the roadblock. It can come with a piece of smart, imaginative act of captaincy, surprising the opposition with a bowling move or moving the fielder to the right position.

An example of it came on the fourth day of the second Test: Zaheer Khan induced an edge off McCullum towards the third slip but there was only one man in the cordon and the chance went abegging when a diving Shikhar Dhawan only got a hand to the ball. It proved to be the only opportunity that came India's way on the day against McCullum who smashed a super-human triple ton.

This set of selectors are doing a fine job, being ruthless with non-performers irrespective of the reputation. But, do they have the authority to measure Dhoni's performance with the same yardstick? The Board President, N Srinivasan, sent a clear message across when he used his veto-power to overrule the previous selection committee's decision to replace Dhoni as captain.  Given the fat pay-cheques they are drawing, they have a lot at stake to not fall in line. 

Dhoni's place in India's cricket pantheon is assured as a captain as well as a player - the numbers speak for itself. While he still remains a force as a player, his captaincy has stagnated in the Fletcher-era.

There are too many examples of him allowing the games to drift away. The most basic mistake he makes is trying to set fields for bad balls, in the process of which he ends up chasing the ball by positioning fielders in the direction where the previous ball had travelled. The negative streak started with the West
Indies Test in Dominica, 2011, when he took the decision to shut shop while he could have gone for victory with enough wickets in hand.

Seeing a batsman settle down, he has been quick to push fielders on the boundary and resort to defensive bowling while packing one side of the field. Against McCullum Dhoni tried this ploy again, with disastrous consequences as the opposition amassed 680 for eight.

Fletcher has to take equal blame. These were big dreams when Fletcher took over. Appointed after the World Cup victory in April 2011, the Zimbabwean was expected to take Indian cricket to the next level. After all, he had taken charge of a team on a high, being the No 1 Test side and World Cup champions.
The wins at home are just a token consolation in his term. Pre-Fletcher what the Indian cricket team prided itself in was how the world had started to recognise them as a force in any conditions, not just on the brown wickets at home.

Dissecting the biggest debacles --- the Test series defeats to England (home and away), Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, and even accepting that it was a collective failure --- it has become clear that in areas where the coach has a direct role to play, Fletcher has not covered himself in glory.
The coach's role is to strategise, motivate the players and keep their morale up. We didn't see any of the tactical inputs as Dhoni & Co continued to flounder in the decisive moments in New Zealand.

Even to the extent of the risk of destabilising the team with just 12 months to go for the World Cup, it's time for Indian cricket board and selectors to bite the bullet when it comes to the senior team management. There are serious charges against the Indian cricket board about lack of accountability. The challenge is to ensure the malice is not allowed to afflict its playing unit as well.


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