Picture this. In the first Test which begins on December 4 in Australia, India under the captaincy of Virat Kohli manages a rare overseas win on the back of a strong performance by the new skipper.
It would be the first victory on Australian soil in 6 years and the coming of age of a new captain. So if current captain MS Dhoni returns fit for the second Test, how will the BCCI react? Will they ask Dhoni to play under Kohli or will they nip Kohli’s Test captaincy in the bud? That’s a real conundrum.
While Dhoni is by far the greatest captain in the shorter formats of the game, he has come unstuck in overseas Tests. The first 0-4 overseas debacle in England was swept under the carpet.
After 0-8 (adding the Australia tour), Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir were put into virtual retirement by the BCCI. The two 0-1s in South Africa and New Zealand were seen as close affairs and Dhoni got his umpteenth reprieve.
After 1-3 in England, he was sure to have been sacked. However only one thing saved him: Kohli’s woeful form in England. Dhoni piled up 349 runs (with 17 dismissals), which is excellent for a wicket-keeper batsman.
Kohli on the other hand scored just 134 in the Test series. Had it been the other way round, then one is sure that the baton would have passed from Dhoni to Kohli. Luck saved Dhoni yet again.
However, for how long will Kohli be denied the Test captaincy? Kohli has close to 2000 runs in 29 Tests and 6000+ runs in 146 ODIs. That’s more than enough experience.
Kohli in the past has led Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL. However with his recent ruthless 5-0 thrashing of Sri Lanka in the ODI series, he has come of age. Kohli has now captained India in 17 ODIs and won 14 of them. His 82% success rate is the best among all India ODI captains who have led in at least 10 matches.
In fact even if Kohli manages to draw the first Test at Brisbane, it might still make sense to switch to a new captain.
The real problem is the attitude of the BCCI. For them, you first have to become a full-time ODI captain before you can become a Test one.
The Test status has some sort of unofficial seniority. That means, going by their tradition/convention, Kohli will be made Test captain only if he clicks permanently as ODI captain. But Dhoni is virtually unshakeable as ODI captain. And that’s what is saving his Test captaincy. It’s a strange paradox.
The BCCI is comfortable having one captain for both Tests and ODIs. In case of a split captaincy, they prefer a junior for ODIs and a senior for Tests. But there’s no harm in switching it around! We can have a junior (Kohli) as Test captain and a senior (Dhoni) as ODI captain. You have to go by whatever suits Team India.
However if that happens, then Dhoni’s ODI captaincy is at stake too. If he performs really badly at the 2015 World Cup, then he could be sacked. Even if he wins, there could be pressure on him to step down on a high as Dhoni will turn 38 in 2019 when the next ODI World Cup is held and the thrust may be to build a new team under Kohli.
Dhoni is probably the most overburdened cricket player in history. Captain + batsman + wicketkeeper in Tests + ODIs + international T20s + IPL is a workload not seen by any other player. Resting him in one area may actually strengthen him in other areas.
This Australia tour is the longest and most crucial of Dhoni’s career as it consists of a Test series, an ODI triangular tournament and the World Cup. Team India will land in Australia in November 2014 and stay there till March 2015!
Then there’s also the N Srinivasan factor. While Sourav Ganguly had an excellent rapport with ICC chief Jagmohan Dalmiya and coach John Wright, the brief Rahul Dravid-Greg Chappell relationships also had its highs.
It is an open secret that Dhoni has the strong backing of ICC chief Srinivasan, but the latter is on sticky ground and one is not really sure how long his clout will last in the BCCI. If Srinivasan makes an exit, then Dhoni could go too.
One could say that Dhoni is entering the slog overs of his captaincy. So will he manage to hit a winning six off the last ball like he has done so many times in his career?
Anything is possible with “last-minute” Dhoni!
The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger.
He blogs at http://sunilrajguru.com/