MS Dhoni asks a left-arm spinner to open the bowling in a Test. Some may term that aggressive, but when Dhoni does not give the bowler a silly point (to right-hander, of course) you can only call it absurd. In a Twenty20 international, Dhoni gives his fast bowler two slips. Some may term that assertive, but when Dhoni refuses to bring the field in knowing he needs to win by a certain margin, you can only call it timid.
Dhoni's aggression, it appears, is caught between the rational and the instinctive. When a gut feeling fails, it's difficult to fall back on the reasonable. That's where Dhoni is getting found out these days, turning the murmurs into shrills and re-igniting the captaincy debate.
India's third consecutive failure to reach the ICC World Twenty20 semi-finals has turned the spotlight back on Dhoni's captaincy, which has been under the scanner since the embarrassing washout in England. Dodgy team selection, not reacting to situations and a flawed format contributed to India's early exit in Sri Lanka.
Winning four out of five matches and thrashing England by 90 runs was not enough for a semi-final qualification. But the one and only loss, a nine-wicket humiliation at the hands of Australia, was adequate for an early exit. That's bizarre, but then that's how it was for every team. It was important to keep your house in order, which India failed to do.
It's difficult to point fingers at a captain looking at that win/loss record. But in India's case, it was some questionable decisions by Dhoni that played a part in the ouster, leading to unrest among Indian fans. And when it's about cricket, fans in India don't have a short memory.
The fans remember India had Pakistan at their mercy but refused to push in an attempt to win in 16.4 overs. Had they done that, India's net run rate would have leapfrogged Pakistan's. The fans remember that to bench Virender Sehwag and open with Irfan Pathan was bizarre. They remember that the specialist bowlers didn't bowl their full quota even when part-timers were being thrashed by Shane Watson and David Warner. The fans also remember that India needed at least two specialist spinners on a slow track against South Africa but instead Dhoni played L Balaji. And the fans haven't forgotten that Dhoni didn't bring the field in to stop the singles when India had to restrict South Africa to 121 to reach the semis.
A team should start worrying when its calm captain turns into a mute spectator. That's how Dhoni appeared during those situations – a mute spectator. A captain who used to think on his feet is fast losing ground. He also gives an air of "thank God" when playing at home and "Oh God" when leading out of the subcontinent. That's a big reason for India to worry and start mulling options.
Perhaps it's right to say there 'aren't many' but absolutely wrong to admit that there 'aren't any' when it comes to captaining India. Different captains for different formats could be the way forward. That brings Virat Kohli into the picture. Grooming him with Dhoni on his side is how we can go about it. That's the biggest challenge that the Sandeep Patil-led new selection panel faces.
Time has come to put an arm around Dhoni and ask how he is feeling about leading India in three different formats. The new selectors need to sit down with Dhoni and talk. That could be the way forward. In fact, that should be the way forward.