It\'s time the Indian skipper washes his inglorious recent Test record with a blast from the celebrated past.
Once your rise to fame becomes vertical, crisis- when it arrives - seems unnatural. In MS Dhoni's case, the statement is strictly true, and it's time the Indian skipper washes his inglorious recent Test record with a blast from the celebrated past - against Australia.
Count this: ICC World Twenty20, ICC Test mace, ODI World Cup, Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, part of an ICC World ODI XI for four straight years, ICC ODI Player of Year in 2008 and 2009 - all this and much more in a matter of 8 years since bursting on the international scene in 2004 with henna-coloured hair.
From his chic hairstyles to moves that took the wind out of India's opponents, everything Dhoni did became an instant hit. But what brewed on the backburner during that period was served hot in the English summer of 2011 - and the blisters haven't healed since.
Dhoni's epic success and unbeaten run in 10 Test series almost took the human element out of his story. And when defeat finally arrived, it happened in the worst possible manner - two consecutive whitewashes in England and Australia saw India lose eight consecutive overseas Tests.
'Elite' friendship pulled Dhoni out of the chopping table. Not only that, he remained the skipper. Not only that, he kept getting what he wanted. Not only that, he continued to disappoint with dodgy team selection and not reacting to situations. Not only that, news of Dhoni v Sehwag and Dhoni v Gambhir kept surfacing. Not only that, India kept plummeting in Test cricket - with Dhoni's phenomenal ODI performances being used by the 'Elite' to shield him from Test axe.
On this downward slope, Rahul Dravid left the scene and VVS Laxman followed suit - wee bit reluctantly and surprisingly. Sachin Tendulkar was getting bowled and finally decided to put an end to his ODI career to quieten the "please quit" howls. To top it all, Dhoni continued to fail in finding the answers. Lightning struck! India lost a home series to England.
India failing on 'made-to-order' rank turners pinched the hosts to reality. Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar troubled Indian batsmen more than R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha did the Englishmen. Questions! Are India no longer a nursery of world class spinners? Is the young crop of Indian batsmen not competent enough to play quality spin? But foremost, are Dhoni's days as captain over?
"I won't run away from my responsibility" was Dhoni's response to the clamour for his head; dropping Gautam Gambhir was BCCI's - at Australia Standard Time. Michael Clarke, who led the 4-0 demolition in Australia, and his touring party have nailed their tents in India, to do what England did a couple of months back. And two back-to-back Test series defeats at home will be catastrophic for Indian cricket.
What are the odds? Both the teams are in transition mode. Stalwarts from both the countries have put their feet up. Australia's batting looks vulnerable. India's bowling doesn't promise 20 wickets every time. Clarke is a better captain than Dhoni at this stage and leading by example. Tendulkar still there gives India slight edge. So the stakes are pretty even except on the captaincy front.
With 1595 runs in 2012, Clarke left Ricky Ponting's Australian record of 1544 behind. There's more. Clarke became the first batsman in Test history to make four double centuries in a calendar year. Dhoni's 447 runs without a century in 2012 look malnourished in comparison. Both the teams played eight matches in 2012, but while Clarke led Australia to victory in seven of those, Dhoni won only three.
But in Dhoni's case, there's hindsight to this scenario. What Dhoni is now left with is what made him the star he is. The young legs in the current Test squad - Cheteshwar Pujara, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ravindra Jadeja, Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli - remind you of the no-fear squad of the 2007 World Twenty20. Of course, Test cricket is a different kettle of fish. But you don't test a character without throwing it in the line of fire. And Dhoni is known to do that.
The area where Dhoni needs to make a concerted effort is his batting. Runs flowing from his bat will result in confidence. Confidence will promote logical thinking. Logic will lead to better captaincy. And with competition for places gathering pace, Dhoni has the ink; he just needs to pot it and use wisely to script India's revival.