If one were to glance the papers and observe the media over the last two weeks, an observation that Dhoni is a wanted man is not out of place. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown rings loud and clear after a series defeat to Bangladesh. If recent reports from his former coach are to be believed, there are suggestions of a rift in the dressing room. It is definitely not the first time something like this has been alleged against Dhoni in the matters of Sehwag, Gambhir and Yuvraj. Although, the links of him freezing them out of the team are tenuous at best, given that they were dropped after plenty of chances. Though Dhoni retains the backing of several Indian former captains and some teammates, the murmurs about the Indian team’s poor performance abroad refuse to die down and with it grows the unease about his captaincy. In the last 2 years, India has performed below par on the South Africa, New Zealand, Bangladesh bilateral tours and also in the tri- series before the world cup. Adding to this curious mix is Kohli’s honeymoon period of aggressive test captaincy (which is hailed as a breath of fresh air) and his comments on the team not expressing itself and the plot is replete with murky undercurrents. Cricinfo has two pieces on this issue- one is by Kalra where he talks about an absence of an immediate threat to Dhoni’s captaincy, which is not due to Kohli’s recent patchy form; the second one is by Monga where he makes an unfair comment by stating that Dhoni does not have match winning innings since June 2013.
If the Indian ODI team’s performance over the last two years is examined (until 26th June 2015), the source of the problem can be identified. Examining the batting average of regular batsmen who have scored more than 500 runs in these 2 years, the Indian top order is well represented in the top 10. A more worrying statistic is in the middle order- only 1 Indian batsman averages significantly higher than 33 (guess who?) and is amongst the top 3 players in the world in his position. The number 33 is important in this context as it represents the overall batting average of a middle order batsman in the last two years. India have found it difficult to perform when the top order is not able to mount a suitable platform. He aired his concerns on these lines recently and his move to no. 4 is also the result of a failed experiment of Kohli in that position, despite his success when Gautam Gambhir made the no. 3 his own close to the 2011 World Cup. It comes as no surprise that India are struggling to find consistency in the middle order with constant changes over the last few series and Ajinkya Rahane’s, the frontrunner amongst the pack, has found the going difficult in holding down the position imposed upon him. The issue of a brittle middle order poses a two- fold risk on someone like Dhoni- one, he has to make sure that he stays till the end given that the others have not performed in the last two years and two, the risks that he takes have to be high percentage shots rather than go all guns blazing. This strange dichotomy between the needs of the team that needed to co-exist simultaneously (i.e. preservation and destruction) has inevitably led to their weird marriage i.e. Dhoni’s performance at no. 6 over the last 2 years, as expressed in this article by Muthu:
So India have to make do with that rickety lower order. Dhoni has had to contend with it for months and admitted it has affected his game. So much that he leapfrogged to No. 4 against Bangladesh to set the game up, as opposed to worrying about damage control. Over the last two years, batting at No. 6 he has managed a strike rate over 115 only on five occasions. Because India, over the last two years, have been four down for less than 150 a total of 26 times. Predictably, they have lost 17 of those games.
Upon examining Monga’s remark, i.e. Dhoni’s record over the last 2 years, with the cognizance of the circumstances in which they were made, the issue of significant contributions can be answered on the basis of one tenet – did Dhoni improve the team’s position by virtue of his innings with respect to what he was dealt with? Proceeding to examine individual cases:
It is difficult when you are used to being a big contributor to the side and suddenly the runs stop coming. “I know I had earned a lot of brownie points for what I had done over the six years before that,” Dravid says, “but surely those brownie points were running out at some stage.”