Dhoni embarks on most difficult phase of his captaincy
Nottingham: Humiliated in the first two Tests against England and battling poor form, India`s charismatic skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni finds himself under the scanner -- probably for the first time as a captain.
Only a few months back, Dhoni was the toast of the nation after guiding India to World Cup victory but his midas touch appears to have deserted him in England where the team has suffered two embarassing defeats.
While his wicket-keeping and his poor form with the bat has come under flak, some former players have also criticized his captaincy during the two Test matches.
All eyes will now be on how Dhoni goes about his job of getting his and the team`s act right in the coming week ahead of the third Test match in Birmingham from August 10.
Dhoni has termed the coming week as "very very important" in the context of the team`s preparation.
At a base level, these seven days would be spent between Northamptonshire and Birmingham where Indians play a two-day game and then be on the starting block for the third Test.
But certainly there will be some radical change in gameplan as well as composition of the team.
Some of the notable developments in the past 24 hours are as follows: Zaheer Khan has begun to gingerly run-up to the stumps and bowl; Virender Sehwag is set to return to the fold as he is boarding a Wednesday flight; Gautam Gambhir is definitely fit; Sachin Tendulkar has given glimpse of what he could do from now on.
It`s the unsaid issues which could herald the emergence of a new Dhoni - a leader who is calm yet a proactive; a batsman who has the flexibility to get out of his shell and go back to his original, destructive self.
Dhoni, the leader is praised for his calm on-field demeanour, the captain who allows everyone his own little space to grow and find their own answers.
He stresses on basics; the sport must be enjoyed; and battles must be fought fair and square. He says he doesn`t want to confront failures of individuals. He would rather guide them in the right direction than point fingers.
It`s an insight on a skipper who knows his team already battles the most intense scrutiny from a billion of people and carry so much burden that even a proverbial straw of pressure could break its back. He treats both success and failures as two imposters of Indian cricket.
Yet, for the first time in his astounding career, Dhoni the captain is in the danger of being viewed in reverse. Does his calm represent an inertia? Does the space he gives to his men stops him from being proactive? Can his laid-back attitude arrest the complacency if it sets in?
Dhoni`s teammates praise him for he rarely calls them over into his room; or walk across to make a point to them.
The players are not looking over the shoulder with the worry they are being constantly watched. They feel secure that their skipper trusts them to come up with the right answer.
Whatever points he has to make, he prefers to do it at the nets or in the middle of a match.
While it suits the players, on occasions, it doesn`t necessarily help the team. Former Indian skipper Sourav Ganguly was overtly critical with the way Indian bowlers bowled on the first morning of the Lord`s Test.
He believed they needed to be "right on the money". They should have warmed up for the task. The gravity of the moment missed them. An imposing captain could have made them conscious of the task.
With a supportive captain, they didn`t mind taking their little time to settle into a groove.
Former Indian batsman Sanjay Manjrekar found fault with the preparedness of Zaheer Khan ahead of the series. Zaheer`s return and fitness was left to him - there was no attempt to make doubly sure he was ready for the task.
With benevolent leaders at the helm, he didn`t have to go for a third party assurance, in this case the bowling coach and the trainer of the team.
After India lost the first Test, everything hinged on the second game: the state of the series; Dhoni`s own spotless stature as a skipper; India`s own No 1 Test ranking.
Yet, there was no team meeting held on the eve of the match. Again, the principle of enjoy-the-sport and give-them-space was applied.
During England`s two innings at Trent Bridge, Dhoni not for once appeared animated. He wasn`t running on to the bowlers; never showed his own intent; his own hunger.
His mates didn`t sense that their skipper was on their heels.
Is Dhoni at fault for allowing his men to be their own little leaders; the team being a bunch of leaders rather than supplicant followers or is this the only way to lead a bunch of prima donnas.
Dhoni`s batting form has not been good of late. In each of his last six series, Dhoni has played only one knock of substance. He has been without a century in his last 16 Tests and 25 innings.
His philosophy of late has been to spend time at the crease rather than allow his aggressive instincts to take over. His shifting of batting style was earlier viewed the sign of a flexible, intelligent cricketer.
His failures now are being spoken of in hushed tones as a reflection of a defensive mindset; a player who is afraid of failures.
Failure is a terrible beast for it makes even sound principles appear in different light. The coming "10 days" could trigger a shift in Dhoni`s approach. He could be up for the biggest scrutiny of his career yet.