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Conquering Oz: Dhoni, Cook don't have mindset

International captains Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Alistair Cook will soon face a tough task in the Test arena against Michael Clarke's Australia, writes Ian Chappell.

cricket Updated: Jun 02, 2014 02:29 IST

In reality, the degree of difficulty involved in captaincy lies somewhere between those who believe it's a mystery Sherlock Holmes couldn't unravel to those belonging to the camp of great Australian leg-spinner Bill 'Tiger' O'Reilly who concluded, "My Collie dog could captain a cricket team."

However, two international captains, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Alistair Cook will soon face a task closer to the Holmes' model. Both Dhoni and Cook will have a return bout with an opposing captain who handed them a drubbing, a whitewash, a hiding, take your pick which term you use - but whichever way you perceive the situation, it's the toughest task any captain faces.

Tough task
The difficulty of the task facing both Dhoni and Cook is created by the style of the opposing captain. As long as Michael Clarke's dodgy back holds out, Australia will commence both those Test series with a huge advantage.

Clarke's style is ultra-aggressive (with an attack to match) so he'll be prodding the opposition from the opening delivery of the series. In contrast, Dhoni, at least in the Test arena away from home, is a captain who tends to be reactive rather than proactive. Clarke's style triumphs in such a contest all the time.

In Cook's case he's ultra-conservative and during the 5-0 drubbing in Australia, even when he had the opposition teetering on the edge, he couldn't initiate the final shove. That's what frustrated Kevin Pietersen; he's aggressive and likes to win and he could see that England had little chance.

It may well be that Pietersen had worn out his credits as a match-winner but it still makes little sense to cast aside your best batsman to bolster a captain who is out of his depth; at least out of his depth in a head-to-head battle with a captain like Clarke.

Supporters of Cook will say he can improve. While an important part of captaincy is learning from your mistakes, there are certain critical things about the task that can't be learned. Aggressive intent and a positive approach can't be taught and Cook will be hard-pressed to acquire those qualities. He's unlikely to match Clarke in a contest where those attributes tilt the scales.

Dhoni's is slightly different. He does have an aggressive streak and it stands him in good stead in both the shorter forms of the game. However, that trait seems to desert him in a Test series played away from his beloved home turf.

Dhoni's failings could be caused by a combination of things. Firstly, the short forms of the game virtually dictate how you should play whereas in Tests, the captain has to establish a pattern and then attempt to impose his will on the opposition. Secondly, a captain can stay in the job too long; this leads to him becoming stale.

It's going to be hard for India to beat Australia away from home given the conditions. India may not win under another captain (most likely Virat Kohli) but they have no chance under Dhoni. On the last tour of Australia, India went downhill fast under his leadership and unless the injection of youth has an inspirational affect, I don't see Dhoni winning.

In Cook's case he has one advantage; his next meeting with Clarke will be on English soil. Nevertheless, it won't help Cook much, as his team is short on match winners.

The real problem for England is they have virtually no alternative choice for captain. Neither situation bodes well for India or England in a series where captaincy could make all the difference.