Just four months ago, Mahendra Singh Dhoni had promoted himself in the batting order to lead his team to victory in the World Cup final against Sri Lanka in Mumbai.
Dhoni now finds himself under fire after his team has suffered two huge losses in the ongoing Test series against England. His personal form has been nothing to write home about. Some of his field placings and bowling changes seem whimsical. The curious decision to recall the English batsman Ian Bell revealed unexpected softness under pressure, at the very venue where English players had four years ago merrily taunted Indian batsmen by placing jelly beans on the pitch.
Public opinion is fragile. Few want to be reminded that Dhoni has led India to the top of world cricket in recent years. His strategic thinking and cool mind have served his team well. His overall record has been outstanding. The strongest teams run into rough patches, even the West Indians under Clive Lloyd. Most recently, the English team under Andrew Strauss —perhaps the best Test team on current form—received an unexpected drubbing against a weak West Indian team in early 2009.
The two big Test losses in England are undoubtedly a wake-up call for Indian cricket. It is clear that the schedule is too tightly packed. Even the best players have found it difficult to maintain fitness given the gruelling schedule in recent months. There are signs of mental fatigue as well. Then there are the immediate problems, from the decline in Harbhajan Singh’s bowling prowess to the obvious inability of Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina to handle bouncers on a fast track.
The Indian cricket team may need to be rebuilt in the coming years, especially as the three greats in the middle order—Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman —move towards inevitable retirement.
Dhoni remains the best man to do this. Let us not force him to go the way of Ajit Wadekar, who led India to the top with three successive Test series wins in 1971 and 1973, but who prematurely quit playing Test cricket in disgust after his house in Mumbai was attacked after one disastrous tour of England in 1974.
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