The man who recalled Ian Bell from the pavilion in England, protested a human error in Australia. The man who believed in being a calming influence, bumped into a bowler. A win, a tie and a loss later, MS Dhoni has shown that beneath his tranquility is, after all, human flesh and blood that can get flustered.
After two successive run-chases, comparisons were yet again being drawn between Dhoni and ODI cricket's best finishers. The modern-day iceman, ice running through his veins, the sealer of the tensest chases. Perhaps Dhoni's composure made him the best of the lot. But it took just one loss to run Dhoni ragged. Scenes of India's captain pointing fingers at the umpire and going eyeball to eyeball with Brett Lee ended with a third ban for slow over-rate.
A ban for failing to bowl the stipulated overs in time wasn't the first censure for Dhoni, which is what makes this incident worse. Committing mistakes helps to learn but repeating it shows you aren't paying any heed. That's where Dhoni seems to have changed. His stubbornness has started costing the team dear as his field placements during the Test whitewashes in England and Australia showed.
Dhoni has already served a one-Test ban on this Australian tour for the same offence in the Perth Test. Interestingly, on both occasions – at the WACA and in the Brisbane ODI on Sunday – India went in with a four-pronged pace attack, which in the end cost India some extra minutes and Dhoni a match. The first time Dhoni faced a ban for a slow over-rate was two years ago when he served an even longer ban of two ODIs in the home series against Sri Lanka. What should have been a lesson has now become a bad habit.
Tempers frayed when the third umpire, Bruce Oxenford, pressed the wrong button and ruled Michael Hussey out when he intended to do the opposite. Getting the correct information, the on-field umpires Steve Davis and Billy Bowden sprang into action and recalled Hussey midway through his long walk back to the pavilion. The hysteria that ensued revealed a hidden side of Dhoni as he was seen having an animated discussion with the umpires.
India's fortunes turned for the worse from that point on, and the decisions taken thereafter left a lot to be desired. The falling over-rate would have improved had Dhoni used the spin option of Ravindra Jadeja. But he persisted with his pacers. Giving the ball to Vinay Kumar - who seemed clearly perturbed by a series of cautions he got for running onto the danger area - in the death overs was also baffling.
As if the 110-run hammering was not enough, Dhoni then ignited a new debate by saying the slow legs of the trio of Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir were costing India runs on the field. "It might happen [their playing together, but] it would affect our fielding in a big way. It's not only these three; there are quite a few other players who are also slow on the field. If you really add it up, you would have only two or three good fielders."
Dhoni's fixation with the so-called ‘rotation policy’ has been a matter of debate with opinions divided on it. There are many, including former Indian players, who believe that the policy was essential to groom youngsters but critics have argued that India should play their best XI in every match. How Dhoni and the team think tank have applied this rotation policy to only the three aforementioned players – Tendulkar, Sehwag and Gambhir – has left many scratching their heads. Some have even suggested it has to do with accommodating two of Dhoni’s ‘favourites’, Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma. The pair have failed miserably in the series, which only adds to the puzzles around the Indian team.
Sunday night's incidents – both on the field and off it – rounded off an otherwise good week for Dhoni on a sour note. His absence from the game against Sri Lanka may rob India not only their captain and best batsman in a crucial fixture but a chance to proceed further in the series, which will be on a knife’s edge if they lose.