Verdict on Dhoni's standing as a captain was always going to be reserved for tougher times. The team that got India regular wins in Test cricket, undoubtedly had a collection of all time greats. Captaining a team of brilliant individuals and notching up wins was never going to do much to Mahendra Singh Dhoni's legacy as a captain. How he would fare after the greats had retired was a matter of interest for me. That would show his true worth as captain.
As things turned out India's greats held on selfishly to their own positions in the team, justified by past achievements, even when collectively they had stopped being effective.With more or less the same team that got India to be a force in Test Cricket, Mahendra Singh Dhoni led the team to consecutive losses in England and Australia. While it is true India's bowling had no sting, it was the inability of the batting greats to hold on for even nominally respectful draws that was humiliating.
And now after Rahul Dravid has retired, followed by VVS Laxman - reluctantly, Zaheer Khan to fitness and Harbhajan to God-knows-what, the voices questioning Mahendra Singh Dhoni's captaincy are growing.
In a culture that encourages and even lauds senior players who motor on as 'just a player' with leadership roles that come with unverifiable accountability, there are many who demand a share of accolades in a win but only one, the captain, who is held accountable when losses mount.
During the 8 defeats, Dhoni neither engineered any change, nor did he show any desire to. Instead he and his team relentlessly defended the status quo and refused to feel the intensity of the defeats.
What real power the captain of the Indian team has to make a change may be unknown but it is safe to assume its very little to begin with. Perhaps he has no power whatsoever when you have a team of all time, self consuming, beyond-their-prime greats. When you add to it the shadow of the IPL on the Indian National team, one can only speculate what sort of motivations drive decisions; or in-decisions in this case.
It is highly questionable if a 'better captain' would have delivered a better result; although that does not mean Mahendra Singh Dhoni as captain could not have done better.
What would have been really ideal for Indian cricket is back when Rahul Dravid resigned his captaincy or even when Anil Kumble retired, had Sachin Tendulkar stood up to take leadership of the team. It would have made a huge difference in my opinion to have the best player in the team also be its captain, be ready to be accountable for the results and in the process also leave a lasting mark on its future.
And then now, or whenever Sachin decides to retire, would have been a good time for Mahendra Singh Dhoni to assume the captaincy. With his own team.
As things have turned out, Mahendra Singh Dhoni has now implicated himself as a central figure in India's decline and there is really tough to defend him. A truly secure captain would have been the most vocal critic of all, in the way things have turned out in the last 2 years after the World Cup. Instead his analysis of defeats is most self serving, typical of an insecure line manager.
That he thinks losing the home series to England is not a 'new low' for India is troublesome. His reference to India's 2007 World Cup performance as the lowest low, for me reveals a disconnect. Strong World Cup performances are always welcome, the real health of a team can only be gauged by how well they do in Tests. Mahendra Singh Dhoni's assessment does bring into question whether his heart is truly only for limited overs cricket.
It is well understood that with the greats gone, India will win less often. Although it would be foolish to think that a Sachin Tendulkar or a Rahul Dravid are pre-requisites to putting together a winning team. India have won World Cups and away series before Sachin and co. came on to the scene and they will win without them in future. Talent has never been a problem in India and captains have always had very limited span of control over real decisions.
Whether a new man, God forbid that man to be Gautam Gambhir, will do better is not of real interest to me. Of real interest is whether a decision on India's Test Captain will be made purely on cricketing merits.