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As captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s eye-popping ascent began with the triumph in the 2007 T20 World Cup. Its 2012 edition may well have flagged off a jaw-dropping descent. With India bowing out of the tournament, the third successive time the team has failed to reach the Super Eight stage under Dhoni’s stewardship, the knives are well and truly drawn. Suddenly, questions are being asked of his choice of playing eleven, field placements, his super-cool attitude, even his superstitions.
As if on cue, K. Srikkanth, who relinquished his duties as chairman of the selection committee just a fortnight ago, popped up on television to say that the BCCI might now want to re-examine if it wants a common captain for all three formsof the game; that’s short-hand for stripping Dhoni of some of his responsibilities by farming out the captaincy. With the anchor egging him on, Cheeka blurted out: “Of the players on display, Virat Kohli looks to have the best potential as a future India captain.”
The first questions over Dhoni’s leadership had been posed earlier this year when, shortly after the 2011 World Cup triumph, India lost four Tests in England and then four more in Australia, making it 0-8 away from home. “In Birmingham, after India lost the series, Dhoni’s post-match conference was like the head of the production team of a factory explaining why the company had failed to achieve its targets,” wrote cricket historian Mihir Bose. “After one of the most one-sided Tests in recent history, there was not a note of regret at the Indian performance, no apology to fans who had invested money and emotional capital in the series.”
A 2-0 series victory against New Zealand made Dhoni the most successful skipper at home, but it did little to erase the impression that his best was past. Controversies over player inclusion (think Piyush Chawla), player exclusion (think Sehwag, Harbhajan) dogged the man who could do no wrong just a year ago. When V.V.S. Laxman retired, he said he could not “reach” Dhoni; when he held a dinner for his former mates, the captain was left out. Last week, after India’s T20 chances were blown, Dhoni lamely blamed the rain.
Given the political dynamics of Indian cricket, Dhoni’s end as captain may not yet be nigh, but intimations of mortality have been received.