If people thought that things couldn’t get any worse after the overseas Test 0-8 drubbing, then another nadir was staring at us in the face in Kolkata in the fourth Test against England last year. Batting first England made 330 and had India on the mat at 75/4. We looked in danger of going 1-3 down. At home, that was just a bad thrashing as 0-4.
Captain MS Dhoni walked in and with Virat Kohli got involved in a gritty Test partnership not seen by India in ages. The two stayed together for a whopping 396 balls making a fighting 150. In the end, we lost the series by a more respectable 1-2.
In a later ODI series with Pakistan, India continued with its woeful form and would have lost 0-3, but escaped with a much better fighting 1-2 thanks to Dhoni’s tremendous batting. In Chennai (which is practically Dhoni’s home ground now), India were reeling at an abysmal 29-5, but a brilliant fighting century by Dhoni gave India some respectability.
After that we won our ODI series against England and headed for the Australia Test series with some confidence.
All through our worst phase, captain Dhoni tried his best to lift India’s game as much as he possibly could. Since the World Cup final of 2011, Dhoni averages a phenomenal 81 in ODIs. As Test captain, he has a greater batting average than both M Azharuddin and Sourav Ganguly when they were at the helm of affairs. Both were specialist Test batsmen, mind you.
His performance behind the wicket hasn’t dipped either and he is now on top in terms of dismissals for Indian wicket-keepers in all formats of the game. He has done the best he could when all of India’s batsmen and bowlers were failing in all manner of pitches.
It is still funny how before the Chennai Test many were clamouring for retiring Dhoni from Tests! He could easily have been stripped from captaincy, no-one can really argue against that. But to say that he doesn’t merit a place in the Test team is an amazing claim.
With his brilliant double century in the first Test against Australia in Chennai, he has settled that debate for now at least. Our opponents had put up a highly competitive 380 on the board on a tricky pitch. Dhoni walked in when India was at a precarious 196-4. Australia was in charge and another wicket would have left us fighting to save the Test match.
Dhoni produced one of the best Test knocks we have seen in a long long time and his 265-ball 224 studded with six sixes is the stuff of legends. This may well prove to be a turning point in both Dhoni’s Test career and India’s Test fortunes.
In the end we won by 8 wickets to go up 1-0 in the series and Dhoni is now level with Ganguly, notching up 21 Test wins as captain.
India enters the second Test in good shape. R Ashwin got his first 5-wicket haul against a top team in the first innings and repeated the feat in the second innings. Pragyan Ojha’s return will boost Ashwin. Virat Kohli, Sachin Tendulkar and Cheteshwar Pujara have all got runs under their belt. We haven’t looked this good in ages.
What people don’t realize that this is not the first time that Dhoni has got India out of an extended slump like this.
When we were kicked out of the ODI World Cup in 2007, Dhoni captained India to their maiden T20 WC triumph in the very same year. That revived India and laid the platform for the IPL revolution.
In 2007 again at Lord’s in the first Test with England, Dhoni scored 76 off 159 balls which helped us draw the Test. India were 9 down at the end of the day’s play and Dhoni remained not out. We went on to win that series and that put us on the road to becoming No. 1 in Tests.
In the past all the teams had figured out Dhoni the ODI batsman. So he re-invented himself and revived his ODI batting, going to greater heights. At Chennai it looks as if he has revived his Test batting too.
If India do manage to get out of the horrid Test slump of 2011-13, then it would be again Dhoni who would have done the trick!
The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger.
He blogs at http://sunilrajguru.com/