MS Dhoni should stay on as Test captain, conditional to his response to the critical questions that confront him as leader.
The first among those is what his vision is for India to regain legitimacy as a competitive Test playing country overseas - especially in England, Australia and South Africa. While in one-day cricket Dhoni appears to be an assertive skipper who demands and often succeeds in getting the team he wants, in Test cricket he seems to accept without a squeak the personnel handed to him. That is no longer acceptable to followers of Indian cricket.
Dhoni can stay captain only if he visibly shows the desperation to lead India out of the depths it finds itself in after the dismal tours of England and Australia. He can no longer brush the problems areas away as 'part of the game'. Dhoni must offer his road-map for recovery that goes beyond the standard clichés. He must take the hard, un-emotional decisions needed to stem the rot. If he does so, Indian cricket must whole-heartedly back him.
The BCCI president and the chairman of selectors must summon Dhoni to discuss his personal ambitions in Test cricket. For the distant observer, Dhoni appears to have little faith in his own batting ability in testing overseas conditions in whites. In both England and Australia, Dhoni showed little gumption to front up against torrid spells.
Why is it that a man so adept at handling any situation in one-day cricket throws in the towel without showing the same resolve in Tests? Is Dhoni always 'waiting to fail' as a Test batsman? If so, can he carry the same attitude in overseas series, especially once the team loses the experience of Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman? Dhoni must convince - himself and Indian cricket - that he has more to offer as Test batsman. And is willing to devote himself to mastering that challenge.
And finally, Dhoni must answer emphatically if he views Test cricket as the highest form of the game. While India's success in one-day cricket under his watch is to be admired, they cannot claim to be a powerhouse of the world game if the embarrassments continue overseas in Test cricket. Cricket's devoted followers of the game judge a team from its results in the Test arena, more so in unfriendly conditions. If Dhoni does not, he must be removed from the job. Indian cricket owes it to its legion of fans to be a strong Test playing nation on the road. If its captain isn’t convinced about the eminence of the format, he must make way for a man who does.
It is a monumental feat to be world champions in one-day cricket, but a team that falls apart consistently in Test cricket overseas won’t ever enjoy the respect of the game's most discerning followers. And deep down, in its own estimation.
(This piece first appeared in the Ananda Bazar Patrika)