In Hyderabad, MS Dhoni became the most successful Indian captain. In Mohali, a fortnight later, he became the first Indian skipper since Mohammad Azharuddin to win three Tests in a row. Opinions could be polarised about his order in the list of India’s all-time best captains, but is this the peak of Dhoni’s captaincy career in Tests (Tests specifically, because he has already scaled the World Cup peaks in other versions)?
In terms of the scoreline and the comprehensive manner in which the series win was accomplished, this has been doubtlessly a peak of sorts, and one wherein he single-handedly set the tone for the series. Not to undervalue the efforts of Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Shikhar Dhawan or Virat Kohli. Dhoni’s double hundred in Chennai was the tour de force in this series.
Almost every strategy had his quintessential magic touch.
Like for example, his persistence with Ravindra Jadeja, despite trepidation as to his adaptability to the Tests, “Jadeja’s inclusion has helped. It meant we were playing with five specialist bowlers. We bowl 120-125 overs on an average to get teams out, so we get tired,” he pointed out.
Or for example handing out the Test cap to Dhawan instead of going with popular sentiment of drafting in Ajinkya Rahane.
His advice to Dhawan was sensible and pragmatic, “I told him not to change his approach, because that is what has bought him here. I told him this because I have seen a lot of youngsters change their approach once they get into this level,” he said.
Almost every selection was logical, especially the much debated Harbhajan Singh over Pragyan Ojha decision.
“It was a horses for courses policy. Australia had a lot of left-handers in the side, and hence Bhajji was picked ahead of Ojha, and it was not like Ojha being dropped for poor form. And when Matthew Wade got injured and Brad Haddin came in as his replacement we decided to bring back Ojha because Haddin was a right-hander,” reasoned Dhoni.
Like astute captains, he knows to manoeuvre his bowlers, and importantly when and how. For instance, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who had snared all three Australian batsmen to fall on Sunday, was sparsely used on Monday. He was reintroduced only for the second new ball.
“The pitch was slow and the ball wasn’t moving around. So Bhuvneshwar would have found it difficult. We basically wanted to give him more overs with the new ball and so we kept him fresh for the second new ball,” he said.
His approach, at times, has been conservative, especially under pressure. “I don’t gamble. When we were chasing we felt the pressure. The stakes were high. It wasn’t going to make any big difference if we were to win or draw the game. But if we lose, it would have given Australia the opportunity to level the series,” he said.
In terms of magnitude, India have achieved more significant Test series victories before. But in the background of India’s recent capitulation to England and the 8-0 overseas series drubbing, this series win should have a positive effect on Indian cricket.