Cricket World Cup: Is Mahendra Singh Dhoni losing his Midas touch?
When Mahendra Singh Dhoni was surprisingly named India`s captain in 2007 as senior players backed out of the inaugural World Twenty20, he responded by leading his team to the title.
Two years later, Dhoni was at the helm when India topped the Test rankings and, another two years later, he captained the nation to their second World Cup triumph in front of adoring home crowds in Mumbai.
But the Dhoni magic was too good to last. He may still be regarded as India`s best limited-overs player but his uncanny ability to conjure wins in major tournaments seems to have deserted him.
India were beaten by Sri Lanka in the final of the World Twenty20 in Bangladesh last year despite enjoying an unbeaten run in the tournament till then.
On Thursday, India succumbed to a 95-run World Cup semi-final loss to Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground after six straight wins in the league and one more against Bangladesh in the quarter-final.
But it was once again Australia, the top-ranked one-day team, who got in the way as the tournament co-hosts built on their success over Dhoni`s men in the Tests and one-day tri-series which preceded the World Cup.
As the Indians trudged off from the SCG after the match, the question asked was whether Dhoni will give up the captaincy -- or quit playing one-day cricket altogether.
In late December, Dhoni made a shock retirement from Test cricket after the third Test of the four-match series against Australia, with the decision being announced by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) through a media release.
This time, Dhoni was more forthcoming at the post-match presentation, saying he would rethink his long-term future after next year`s World Twenty20 that India are due to host.
Asked if he will play in another 50-over World Cup, Dhoni said: "I`m not sure about it. I`m 33, I`m still running, I`m still fit."
Australian captain Michael Clarke said Dhoni`s time was not over yet.
"I heard you ask if it is going to be his last World Cup," Clarke told the presenter. "I`m pretty sure it`s not going to be, there`s a lot of cricket left in his body yet."
Dhoni hit a run-a-ball 65 in the semi-final, but could not prevent India from being dismissed for 233 in reply to Australia`s 328 for seven.
Despite the loss, Dhoni`s men will return home a proud bunch who made a creditable comeback after the dismal bilateral tour.
Former batting great Sunil Gavaskar attributed the defeat to the pressure of chasing down a 300-plus target, but conceded Australia outplayed India with both bat and ball.
"India succumbed under the pressure of big finals," said Gavaskar. "The batsmen played irresponsibly and got out to some sloppy shots."
India won in 2011 with an established line-up that included batting record-holder Sachin Tendulkar and other seasoned players like Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gabhir, Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh.
In this edition, Dhoni was the elder statesman of a relatively young team that will form the nucleus of the side till the next World Cup in England in four years` time.
In Shikhar Dhawan, who scored 412 runs in the tournament, and Rohit Sharma, with 330 runs, India have a stable opening pair at the top of a talented batting line-up.
Star batsman Virat Kohli failed to live up to his own lofty standards after scoring a match-winning century in the first match against Pakistan, but remains one of the most prolific batsmen in the modern game.
The surprise packet was a heart-warming display of the much-maligned fast bowlers with Umesh Yadav (18 wickets) and Mohammad Shami (17) leading the way and third seamer Mohit Sharma`s 13 wickets matching the haul of leading spinner Ravichandran Ashwin.
"Keep faith in this team, they will win you many matches in future," said former captain Sourav Ganguly. "Indian cricket has a bright future."