Under Dhoni’s leadership, India has careened to 10 losses in 12 away Tests over the last three years. It is a record that would have led to the sacking of a captain who did not have the full support of his Board President, in this case the currently-suspended-from-the-BCCI-but-new-ICC-head N Srinivasan…
It should come as no surprise that India captain MS Dhoni came to the defence of embattled England captain Alastair Cook at his first press conference after arriving in the old country. “I think it’s very important to back players. It does not matter whether he is the captain of the side or a batsman or a bowler,” Dhoni said.
Dhoni should know. He has been no stranger to criticism in recent years, especially of his Test captaincy. He has been pilloried by the media for exactly the same reasons as Cook – he is too defensive, he is too reactive, he lets the game drift. Under Dhoni’s leadership, India has careened to 10 losses in 12 away Tests over the last three years. It is a record that would have led to the sacking of a captain who did not have the full support of his Board President, in this case the currently-suspended-from-the-BCCI-but-new-ICC-head N Srinivasan. Meanwhile Cook has led England to six defeats in their last seven Tests and there have been calls for him to step down from the likes of Shane Warne and Sir Geoffrey Boycott. So far though, the ECB has stood firm behind its appointed team leader.
All of which raises the stakes for the first five Test series between the two sides since 1959. A loss for Cook will raise the volume of those calling for his head and make it harder for the ECB to ignore them. Another series loss for Dhoni, especially one where India fails to win a Test, will damage his once glittering reputation still further. Eventually, the shine will wear off. Both mean also happen to be leading teams in transition, teams that will need to lean on their captains for direction and belief. Much will depend on how how well the can inspire and rally their troops. The length of the tour means neither man will have anywhere to hide.
Despite the similarities in approach, Cook has a few potential advantages. He cares more about Test cricket than Dhoni does. As Sharda Ugra wrote for ESPNcricinfo after India lost the 2012-13 home series to England: “Dhoni said it had been tough ‘but there are not many things that will come close to when we lost the 2007 50-over World Cup. This is not even close to that’. “Two bad days at a World Cup were compared to dozens of days of shabby Test cricket against England and Australia . The rattling awfulness of a Test series loss at home was, in Dhoni’s eyes, less than that of defeat in the 2007 World Cup. In which he wasn’t even captain.” Cook is English through and through, which means Test cricket is what matters most, with the Ashes being their most glittering prize.
Dhoni has also repeatedly said it is hard to win Tests abroad and seems content to win at home no matter how many losses pile up elsewhere. Such an attitude suggests everything will not be left on the field in search of victory. Second, Cook is a young captain. He should, in theory, have a greater capacity to adapt than his Indian counterpart, who after seven years at the helm is likely to be set in his approach. Whether Cook can learn from his mistakes will be crucial to England’s chances. The third is Cook is very familiar with playing five Tests. This will be the first time for Dhoni, so he will be feeling his way as he goes. In this case at least, experience goes to the younger man. On the other hand, Dhoni doesn’t care about public criticism, perhaps at all. Meanwhile Cook has already had a go at Warne for what he perceives to be a personal vendetta against him. The pressure could tell on Cook if early results don’t go his way. The stakes could very well end up forcing both men out of their comfort zones. Or it could force them to eschew any risk at all and play it safe. Ultimately though, the leader than learns quickest will likely end up with the victory. For the other, the stakes will only get higher.
– Firstpost : India in England 2014 : Both Dhoni, Cook have their heads on the line