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Should Dhoni be worried?
by Chetan Narula
Jun 15, 2009
When a billion strong cricket-crazy-community back home plus a few hundred thousands more living in London believed that Team India could win the T20 World Cup again by merely turning up, therein lay a problem. Gone was the spring in their steps, the boldness of two years ago as this was a team on the road for eight months, a bit jaded, and yet a bit too confident that they would be victorious.

The injury to Virender Sehwag didn't help (thank you IPL!) but even more hurting was the fact that the team unity had been put under the scanner. Things didn't go well when they played the Kiwis in the warm-ups and failed to beat them yet again. But the win against Pakistan once more bolstered the spirits that this indeed could be our year again.

The two group games were a big hogwash, if seen from a certain perspective. The Indians were professional in their approach and got the needed results, not once giving an impression that there might be an upset. But mind you that didn't establish them as favourites for that could only have been achieved by being ruthless against the two lowly teams.

Looking back at the two Super Eight games, they were both close games. West Indies did their work well as India concentrated only on Chris Gayle and forgot that the rest ten had to bat as well. Against England, they made a few changes that didn't really work for them and they paid the price, getting dumped out of the tournament.

Yes, it is indeed a bitter pill to swallow when India doesn't win the world cup. And that has been so ever since 1983 and more so now after the dual phenomenon of humiliation and triumph in 2007. In the aftermath of the exit from the championship, a post mortem of the performances will begin and, based on the evidence blaring across TV screens within the first 24 hours after the defeat, it will continue for some time.

Inevitably the captain is more often than not the fall guy when it comes to Indian cricket and World Cups. Kapil Dev lost his captaincy shortly after the two editions he captained India in as did Azhar; Ganguly didn't last more than fifteen months after his bid at the trophy and we all know that Dravid had Greg Chappell to thank that his own head was saved for the debacle that was the Caribbean sojourn.

So, the underlying point is: should MS Dhoni be worried? Well, yes and no, and lets talk about the no, first!

The BCCI has come out in support of the team saying that it's a great loss indeed but losses are a part and parcel of the game, and that it paves the way for the team to look ahead. Well that's a nice way of putting things; only it could also mean; don't worry Dhoni, we know you guys were tired after the IPL and we messed up with the Sehwag injury thing. Anyways we still have the IPL and the money, so let's not delve into this one loss too much. And oh, you are still the skipper!

But the skipper is also answerable to the billion strong fan-base that Indian cricket lives on and that fills the BCCI's coffers. The problem with Indian cricket fans is that they are as fickle as cricket itself in Pakistan. One day they could be on a high; putting the players on a pedestal they have never been put on before, and the very next day, the same fans could be the most deluded ones in world sport. That is when they burn effigies and pelt the players' homes with stones.

Sure, strategies won't always work out for the Indian captain. There will be times when Joginder Sharmas will deliver but Harbhajan Singh and Ishant Sharma won't. There will be times when Rohit Sharma will blow away the opposition on his debut but won't fire when he is in top form. And there will also be a Ravindra Jadeja winning matches for you when a Yusuf Pathan isn't or vice-versa, but there will also be days when they both won't. That's all acceptable and part of the game and precisely the reason why mobs won't be pelting stones and burning stuff just yet.

But the mob's memory is quite fickle. Dhoni ought to be worried not because his strategies didn't work out this time but because his bat didn't boom at all. When he first broke onto the stage, his brilliant batting strokes and awe-inspiring strike rate immediately endeared him to the Indian masses. Even his fallibility behind the stumps was overseen by the very same people who have never forgiven Sachin Tendulkar for changing his game a touch and who hail Virender Sehwag as the pinnacle of batting.

Now, playing accumulator and interspersing the innings with a couple of aggressive shots here and there will always work fine in Test and ODI cricket. No one will forget his performances in the Test series against Australia and England, or his ODI performances against Sri Lanka and New Zealand in the last twelve months in a jiffy. But his T20 performances, be it for India or for Chennai, have left a lot to be desired.

That is not the same as saying that all of a sudden he has lost his touch and cannot hit the big strokes. It could be argued that he batted decently well in the losing cause that was the match against England. It's just that he cannot allow an accumulating mindset come to the fore always.

Why this is important is because an Indian captain (or any captain for that matter) who detracts from his importance to the team and his ability to back his position in the playing eleven, doesn't survive long enough. Ask Sourav Ganguly if you need pointers and he will tell you that even getting a Test century albeit against Zimbabwe doesn't even count. If Dhoni doesn't get back to his aggressive intent with the bat - probably the source of his swagger - questions will be asked of him. First, about his ability in front of the stumps, then behind the stumps and after that his overall presence in the team.

He will be prosecuted in turn by the media (it's begun already!), then the fans and then slowly by the Board (read selectors) as well. And that will be more than enough reason to worry!

(The columnist is a sports writer and Mobile ESPN cricket commentator based in New Delhi, India.)
More Views by Chetan Narula
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  Caribbean Themes: Excessive cricket, Raina and Bhajji
  WC 2011 Special: India Beat Pakistan. Now Let's Move On!
  WC 2011 S/F Special: Indian Batting v Pakistan Bowling
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