Credit critically low at the Bank of Dhoni
Gloss of World Cup win fading as defeats put India captain's job at risk
Sunday 06 January 2013
In popular culture, it is recognition by a single name: think Pele or Madonna. In cricket, it is the three-letter acronym that confers the status of institution: LBW, MCC, MCG, CMJ. On a heady April evening in 2011, India lifted the World Cup and the letters MSD joined that list.
When Mahendra Singh Dhoni walks out here this Friday for the toss that will launch India's five-match one-day series against England, he will do so alongside a man angelic of face and black of hair. Alastair Cook may not yet be a cricketing institution, but his position could not be stronger.
Dhoni's has never been weaker. Should Cook enter the history books as just the second England captain, after David Gower, to win a Test and a one-day series in India, historians may well record that he was the man who brought an end to the reign of the most powerful captain in world cricket. When Dhoni assumed the mantle in September 2007, he too was black of hair and unmarked of face, but 130 matches later, what remains of the 31-year-old's shorn mane is peppered grey, and the lines etched on his face suggest Auden not angel.
Since the start of 2012, India have been whitewashed in Australia and England, lost at home to England, and, in Delhi today, face the prospect of another clean sweep, this time by Pakistan in their one-day series. Those results have frittered away the reserves stocked up by the Bank of Dhoni in the wake of the World Cup win.
In these distressed times credit is hard to come by but, then again, there is no one in world cricket with friends in such high places. But some of them are starting to fall away.
The former chairman of selectors Kris Srikkanth has led the criticism. "What the Indian team lacks is direction, motivation and inspiration. The time has come – Dhoni, the poor guy, he's done a great job, but now he's mentally and physically tired."
But while it is easy to attack Dhoni from the outside, woe betide the inside man who tries to use his power to oust MSD. Just ask Mohinder Amarnath. Until last September he was favourite to become the new chairman of selectors. "The selection committee does not have guts to remove Dhoni," said Amarnath before the Fourth Test in Nagpur. Indian Cricket Board (BCCI) sources suggest his opposition to Dhoni's captaincy was why Amarnath was overlooked for the job. The BCCI president, N Srinivasan, is the man with ultimate control over the committee. Srinivasan owns the Chennai Super Kings. Their captain? MSD.
Watching Dhoni in press conferences it is easy to see how he cultivates friends and influences people. He makes the most rambunctious room feel intimate, helpfully moving dictaphones closer, switching effortlessly between English and Hindi and ensuring the gathered journalists have all joined him in a belly laugh. There is one story of Dhoni being kept awake on a flight by a baby. Dhoni broke into his trademark smile and took the baby in his arms to pose for photographs; a keen photographer, he even told the mother how to improve the lighting.
It is not the lighting that now concerns Dhoni, nor his own form – he averages 93.27 runs over the past 27 ODI matches – but the confidence and motivation of a batting order struggling to plug Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman-sized holes. His opposite number has the luxury of thinking long-term. For England, today's warm-up against India A marks the beginning of a year of industry, culminating in back-to-back Ashes series. For India, today's match represents a significant marker in Dhoni's hitherto meteoric career. If Pakistan mete out another hammering, MSD could be getting his P45.
England in India 2013
6 Jan Warm-up v India A in Delhi
8 Jan Warm-up v Delhi in Delhi
11 Jan 1st ODI in Rajkot
15 Jan 2nd ODI in Kochi
19 Jan 3rd ODI in Ranchi
23 Jan 4th ODI in Mohali
27 Jan 5th ODI in Dharmasala
2013: England's hectic year
January 5 ODIs v India (a)
February 3 T20s v New Zealand (a)
3 ODIs v New Zealand (a)
March 3 Tests v New Zealand (a)
April No cricket
May 2 Tests v New Zealand (h)
ODI v New Zealand (h)
June 2 ODIs v New Zealand (h)
2 T20s v New Zealand (h)
3 Champions Trophy group games v Aus, SL & NZ (h)*
July 2 Tests v Australia (h)
August 3 Tests v Australia (h)
2 T20s v Australia (h)
September ODI v Ireland (a)
5 ODIs v Australia (h)
October No cricket
November Test v Australia (a)
December 3 Tests v Australia (a)
2014 January Test v Australia (a)
*Potential to be involved in semi-final and final of Champions Trophy
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