Away test failures puncture Dhoni's leadership aura
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Mahendra Singh Dhoni's one-match ban means the India captain will have time for an introspective look as to where and when his Midas touch deserted him as his team mates battle to avoid a series whitewash against Australia in Adelaide.
Dhoni, who will miss next week's fourth test after the ICC banned him because of India's slow over rate in the third test defeat in Perth Sunday, has enjoyed a fairytale rise from the cricketing backwaters of the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand.
In what seemed like a storyline straight out of a Bollywood script, he led teams to Twenty20 (2007) and 50-over (2011) World Cup victories and oversaw their rise as the number one test team in the world, thus convincing many he was India's best captain ever.
His unflappable leadership, as much as his tactical brilliance and uncomplicated approach, impressed most, including a management institute in his home town Ranchi which wanted to do a brain-mapping of the Indian captain.
It was a fairytale too good to last long and Dhoni met his Waterloo in England last year, a nightmare that returned to haunt him in Australia.
Dhoni's brand of leadership, which earned him the nickname of 'Captain Cool', was ridiculed by a cricket expert who likened him to a clerk in an Indian bank - with no real passion or anger.
In England, where a 4-0 whitewash completed in August robbed the team of the top test status last year, Dhoni could at least blame it on injuries to key players.
In Australia, following two innings defeats that have left them trailing 3-0, he has no such luxury.
For quite a while, Dhoni has not looked quite in command and the Perth test was a good case in study.
The sheer rarity of the move to field an all-pace attack, axing off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin to accommodate debutant pace bowler Vinay Kumar, baffled most.
"I'm surprised, a spinner could have exercised some control here," former captain Ravi Shastri rued on air as the Indian pacers strayed their line and got hammered by Australian opener David Warner on the first day.
In a way, Dhoni met his comeuppance and incurred a one-match ban after India were found two overs short of target. It may not have been the case had one of his frontline bowlers been a spinner.
He could not get the best out of his pacers either.
Much of Ishant Sharma's reputation is built around his excellent spell against former Australia captain Ricky Ponting in the 2008 Perth test but this time around Dhoni held him back, preferring Vinay Kumar's military medium pace instead.
Former India captain Sourav Ganguly was disappointed by Dhoni's announcement on the eve of the Perth test that he was focussing on 2015 World Cup and might quit test cricket next year.
"I wish he's joking," Ganguly told Aaj Tak channel.
"And if he is really serious, then it is not sensible of him at all to make such a comment 24 hours before the start of an important test match," he added.
Barring the half-century in the Sydney test, Dhoni has not enhanced his reputation with the bat either on this tour and has been average behind the stumps.
Throughout the series, he and his slip colleagues stood way behind where edges dropped and he aimlessly shuffled slip fielders on occasions.
In Perth, Dhoni briefly had Virat Kohli in first slip where the fielder dropped Warner before Sachin Tendulkar, original occupant of the position, returned from outfield.
"It's a permanent position. This revolving door of first slip is rubbish," former Australia captain Ian Chappell, a specialist slip fielder himself in his playing days, fumed.
While the entire blame cannot be placed at his feet, Dhoni knows he deserves the lion's share and had the candour to admit it.
"I need to blame myself. I'm the leader of the side, the main culprit," he said.
While vice-captain Virender Sehwag takes over the captaincy temporarily for the Adelaide test, a lack of suitable alternatives mean India need Dhoni to come back firing for the three-test series in Sri Lanka in six months time.
(Editing by Patrick Johnston)
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