On Thursday, Indian skipper MS Dhoni hinted that he may have to give up playing Test cricket in order to help India defend their World Cup title in 2015. Going by his performances in whites for India, however, it could be the case that Dhoni is dropped from the Test team well before he takes a call himself.
Should India go on to lose 0-4 in Australia – and their performances allude to that abysmal record – then Dhoni will have overseen eight successive overseas defeats, each in two damning blocks of 0-4 whitewashes. He cannot be held responsible for India's collective failure, but his contributions in a sorry run of six away defeats – and including the first day's play in Perth – show that he is contributing little with the bat and as a leader.
Out of all the sorry figures that India's batsmen cut on day one at the WACA, Dhoni’s was the most familiar and pathetic ... for all the wrong reasons. His dismissal was so familiar, in fact, that it didn't come as a surprise. A leaden-footed waft at a fairly innocuous delivery resulting in a regulation catch to second slip.
This was the eighth time in his last 11 dismissals that Dhoni had been caught in the arc between point and slips or by the wicketkeeper. It was not the shot of a technically accomplished batsman or a match-winner player. It was the shot of a beleagured, woefully indifferent batsman struggling to prove that he belongs in India's Test team.
The manner in which Dhoni has approached his batting has gone from worrying to a matter of liability. In the last 12 months he has averaged 29.10, a number boosted significantly by two unbeaten half-centuries. Most worrying is the manner in which he has been dismissed in that period.
In the West Indies, Dhoni made 0, 16, 2, 5 and 74. He was out fending to gully, top-edging to cover, chipping to mid-on, spooning to mid-off, and pulling to deep square leg. Four of those five dismissals came with India in shaky position.
The trend continued in England. In the first innings at Lord's, with India 240 for 5 in reply to England's 474, Dhoni nicked tentatively to slip. In the second innings, with India reeling at 225 for 5 in the face of a huge target, he exposed the tail by wafting a catch to the wicketkeeper. At Trent Bridge, India were 52 runs ahead of England when Dhoni played a leaden-footed, daft flash at James Anderson to give second slip catching practice. A dramatic, match-turning collapse ensued. His forgettable match was capped with a first-ball duck in the second innings as he left a delivery that was destined for the stumps.
A pair of breezy fifties followed at Edgbaston, but they had little bearing on the match, and at The Oval Dhoni was back to business, edging catches to the wicketkeeper and second slip. His 144 against West Indies in Kolkata – he walked in at 396 for 6 - was sandwiched between scores of 0 in Delhi and 8 and 13 in Mumbai, each the result of a faulty technique. In Australia, he has driven to gully and edged to the slips.
This kind of batting does India no good; when it comes from your captain, its all the worse. Dhoni's failure to inspire, his repeatedly defensive captaincy, and his lack of runs (220 in four Tests against England and 100 in five innings in Australia) have been factors in India's downfall. His welcoming Brad Haddin in the first innings of the MCG Test, with Australia 211 for 6, with a long-on, deep midwicket and fine leg in place was baffling. His swapping Umesh Yadav for R Ashwin, with Australia nine down in the second innings, and spreading the field and employing one slip was criminal.
In Australia's only innings at the SCG, when the hosts were 99 for 3 – still 92 runs behind India – Dhoni called on Ashwin and stuck in a deep point and deep midwicket. That is not the thinking of a champion leader.
Currently nothing is going Dhoni's way. He is not scoring runs and this has gone beyond just being a dip in form. In Australia, he averages 20.08; in England, 39 (boosted by two unbeaten fifties); in New Zealand; in South Africa, 31.44; in the West Indies, 22.08. Clearly he has struggled on bouncing, seaming wickets where his technique has been exposed. For a side desperately seeking a leader, Dhoni has been thoroughly disappointing. In limited-overs he is a proven match-winner and a vital cog in India's wheel. But in Tests he has been unconvincing. Had he not been India's captain he would not have merited a place in the team.
In all, he has played 66 Tests and won 17 of the 36 matches he's led in. He has always been vocal about too much cricket being played and even taken a break from matches himself. Now, perhaps its time the selectors did away with altogether.