Dhoni feeling the heat
Mahendra Singh Dhoni (Gallo)
New Delhi - Less than a year after being hailed as India's greatest cricket captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni finds his head on the block after another woeful Test series abroad.
The 30-year-old could do no wrong when he led India to Cricket World Cup glory at home in April last year, his second big success as skipper after winning the inaugural World Twenty20 in 2007.
He now presides over a disintegrating Test team that has lost seven consecutive Tests on foreign soil, four of them by an innings and the rest by margins of 196, 319 and 122 runs.
After 67 Tests and 3 509 runs, some say Dhoni barely merits a place in the team any more.
"The need is to find a new captain from beneath the wreckage. Dhoni is no longer the answer in Test cricket," former Australian skipper Ian Chappell wrote in the Hindustan Times on Tuesday.
"He has failed dismally to rally the troops in two disastrous overseas campaigns and his own form, not just with the gloves but also with the bat, no longer warrants a guaranteed place in the Test side."
Dhoni made 220 runs in four Tests in England last year at an average of 31.40 and has managed just 102 runs in three matches in Australia at 20.40.
India, ranked the world's top Test side until they were blanked 4-0 in England, will slip to fourth place if they lose the fourth and final Test against Australia in Adelaide next week in another series whitewash.
Current form suggests they will lose, and lose heavily.
Dhoni won't be playing, having been banned by the International Cricket Council for one match for slow over-rates during the third Test in Perth, his second offence in the last 12 months.
Ex-captains Kapil Dev and Sourav Ganguly have gone on record to say they feel Dhoni needs a quick turnaround to secure his place as Test skipper, while stressing his position at the helm in one-day cricket is not in doubt.
Batting great Sunil Gavaskar supports Dhoni's retention as Test captain - but only because there is no suitable replacement.
"The team won't miss him as a batsman," Gavaskar said, reacting to Dhoni's ban from the Adelaide Test. "But as a leader he will be missed despite the fact that his record is not good.
"At the moment, I can't think of anyone who is good enough to take over from Dhoni," Gavaskar told NDTV.
Dhoni enjoyed a dream run as captain before the current crisis came along.
He was named skipper in 2007 when senior players such as then-captain Rahul Dravid, Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar declined to play in the inaugural World Twenty20 in South Africa.
Dhoni marshalled his inexperienced side to beat great rivals Pakistan in the final in Johannesburg, sparking a Twenty20 revolution in India that led to the creation of the lucrative Indian Premier League a year later.
He was unbeaten in his first 11 Tests as captain, winning eight with three draws. He has now led India in 37 Tests with a creditable record of 17 wins, 10 losses and as many draws.
Unfortunately for him, and India, seven of the 10 defeats have come in succession in England and Australia as the once-mighty batting line-up faltered repeatedly.
Dhoni, true to character, said after defeat in Perth: "I need to blame myself as I am the leader of this side. Of course, I am the main culprit."
His leadership - and his batting skills - will again be put on the line when he leads the World Cup champions in a one-day tri-series against Australia and Sri Lanka from February 5.
He knows more defeats over the next 12 months, and a poor run with the bat, could not only cost him the captaincy, but also his Test career.
He is already the most over-worked player in the country, leading India in all three formats of the game and captaining the Chennai Super Kings in the IPL and Champions League.
Dhoni, who will be 34 by the time the next World Cup is played in Australia and New Zealand in 2015, has said he will rethink his future in the game by the end of next year.