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Captain Cool needs to take one game at a time when everyone is baying for his blood

Photo: IANS                                                                                                           

NAIL-BITING CHASES, fairytale finishes -- MS Dhoni has been there, done that. Hailed as India’s best “finisher” in limited overs, the Indian ODI captain failed to do the job when it mattered on Sunday, botching up what looked like a well-deserved win. And thus began the ‘blame game’.

This, in my opinion, is the biggest drawback of a sporting great’s career. Fans, critics, neutral observers will always remember that one time you failed, against the many times you were God. Gone are the days when Dhoni’s famous helicopter shot would seal the fate in India’s favour. He isn’t the same batsman anymore, struggling to put bat to ball and eating up deliveries in a chase. That doesn’t make him less of India’s greatest modern-day finisher. Instead, it puts a big, bold question mark to his reputation based only on existing form. 

The famous 2011 World Cup six, the gutsy tri-series win in the Caribbean and all of Dhoni’s one-handed wins now seem to be a long way off. His struggle in the first ODI at Green Park was a scary reflection of his dipping form as a batsman in the past year. The fact that this was one of the closely fought matches made Dhoni’s failure even more evident. As a batsman, Dhoni’s game relied more on improvisation rather than technical perfection. But even that seems difficult now.

The Indian cricket fan base is so vast that everyone has an opinion, from your neighbour to the media and ex-cricketers. Fans and critics are quick to judge a player based on one bad performance, and are equally quick to overlook that if the larger interest is achieved. For example, if India go on to win the ODI series against South Africa, Dhoni’s first-match debacle will probably be forgotten. Having said that, it still brings up everyone’s favourite question, “Is it time for Dhoni to go?”

While it may be a bit too harsh on a player who has done so much for Indian cricket, it is a debatable point. Dhoni’s role in the current team certainly needs a revamp, as rightly pointed out by Kris Srikkanth in his interview with The Times of India:

"If Dhoni has to continue doing all the responsibilities, then somebody else can be the swashbuckling finisher. Dhoni can still be an accumulator, but I don't think we are going to see the same devastating MSD in the days to come."

However, it isn’t right to put the blame solely on a single player, when in a team game, others also have to take responsibility. Barring Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane, no other batsman was able to score as briskly, making it even more difficult for the lower order batsmen who come out with very little time. Had a Dhawan, or a Kohli stayed a little longer, the result may have been different. It was a still a very achievable target, thanks to Rohit’s splendid century and his partnership with Rahane. But in the end, it all came down to the final over where Dhoni battled, and that’s what made him the villain on Sunday.

It is just a matter of time before Virat Kohli takes up the captaincy throne across all formats for India. Until that happens, Dhoni needs to find a way of being around and contributing with the bat, apart from leading the side. Maybe he can start with promoting himself up the order, as suggested by former Indian captain Mohammed Azharuddin. 

"He (Dhoni) is the captain and there will be tremendous pressure on him. If he doesn't perform, selectors will have to think about him. He is not the player he used to be. Obviously to make an impact he has to come up the order. Once the dressing room finds captain doing what he is required to do, others will follow him," Azhar told PTI. 

Again, does tinkering with a relatively stable and successful batting order really help? On any other day, India's current batting line-up would have probably finished the game in convincing fashion to everyone's applause. It is important to remember that one bad day in office cannot trigger sudden chopping and changing. There has to be a thought behind every action.

Maybe all Dhoni needs is a breather. He doesn't intend to give up and go home, and he shouldn't. It may take a while before he comes into his own, but that's how it works for good cricketers going through a bad patch. Dhoni is well aware of his limitations and knows when the time will be right for him to go. That doesn't mean he should be given an extended rope either. But for now, it should be 'one game at a time', for our very own Captain cool. 

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