Does MS Dhoni make Test cricket interesting?

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Speaking about captaincy in his interview with the Guardian, Ian Chappell said:

“I also felt – and I think this is overlooked a bit – that it was your job to make the cricket interesting for the players. In doing that, you get the best out of your best players. If you make it dull and bloody boring for them, they’ll just go through the motions.”

When we read that, MS Dhoni immediately came to mind. You don’t think of him as being a boring player – certainly not in in his younger days – but his captaincy can seem really insipid, particularly in Tests and even more so when the match is getting away from him.

Dhoni’s supporters will say that he has to captain within his means; that he has to set defensive fields because of the bowlers he has at his disposal. But how much does the captain’s approach and attitude affect how those bowlers perform?

It isn’t about setting defensive fields, necessarily. It’s about setting interesting fields and asking the batsmen different questions. That can keep bowlers engaged and motivated where the same-old, same-old will not.

Is this unfair? Do you think Dhoni’s a predictable captain? Do you think he creates an environment where his players sometimes merely go through the motions?


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  1. I don’t think Chappell is particularly talking about on-field stuff such as field placings there.

    I think he is mainly talking about off-field stuff, such as deliberately winding up the oppo and causing a row so that the players become more motivated.

    I don’t think Dhoni does deliberate off-field controversy.

    Dhoni is for sure not the most exciting on-field tactician as a captain, that is not what he does best, but he is for sure an entertainer who motivates his team by example.

    On the whole superstars are not the very best captains. Dhoni is a superstar and by the relatively low captaincy standards of “superstar-captains” a particularly good captain.

    1. That might not be what Chappell was talking about, but the question still stands: how much is the supposed weakness of the Indian attack down to how it is being managed and motivated when they are in the field?

      We’re interested to know people’s opinions on this.

  2. Dhoni’s often looked like he feels all that captaincy nonsense isn’t worth bothering with, more so even than Gower. Can hardly be a surprise if that filters to the rest of the team.

  3. Dhonis on-field management usually betrays very clearly his lack of faith. He does have a very poor attack to fall back on, but setting defensive fields send out a clear message to his bowlers that he doesnt have much faith in them.

    During australias innings, Ashwin and Jadeja bowled way more overs than Harbhajan. It was so clear that Dhoni didnt believe anyone other than Ashwin could take a wicket. Its a horrible way to manage a comeback making, low on confidence, generally best when running on adrenaline Harbhajan.

    Dhoni just seems like a guy who doesnt believe that man-management is a part of the captaincy job. He seems more like a corporate boss, assigning blame and praise based purely on performance and his feel of who is going to do well.

    That said, cracking innings today.

  4. Too much is being made of that one innings when he asked the bowlers to bowl a foot outside off stump against Australia. If you look at tests played in India, the visiting countries set fields not very different from Dhoni. But since MS gets more press, his faults, like his virtues, get blown up. Nobody in the English media still remembers when Vaughan made Giles bowl a foot outside leg stump to Sachin to not let him score, do they? Dhoni is no more and no less a conservative captain than Clarke or Smith. The paucity of genuine pace bowlers, as you mentioned, is also an important factor to consider.

    1. If you’re referring to the 2001 tour under Hussain’s captaincy, we do remember it, and that tactic actually helps explain what we’re trying to ask you all.

      We’d distinguish between conservative captaincy and insipid captaincy, which was the word we used in the article. Hussain asked Giles to bowl that way because his bowling attack was fully gash and it was the only way he felt they could win. It was godawful to watch, but it kind of worked. We sometimes get the sense with Dhoni that he sticks with methods – conservative or aggressive – which just aren’t working.

      Hussain was being proactively negative, whereas Dhoni can seem fatalistic. This might be unfair. It’s just that a few times in recent years, we feel like we’ve been watching India wait for a declaration.

      Regarding Clake and Smith, we feel the former generally gets the best out of what he’s got, whereas conservatism isn’t an issue for the latter because it works for him.

    2. Hussain it is. Sorry about that.

      I am not sure I agree Dhoni’s captaincy is insipid. India lacks quality pace bowlers. No matter how good a captain you are, there’s no way to change that. So you might not see three slips and a gully – the telltale sign of an “attacking” field. Dhoni pretty much goes into every game hoping to heavens the track turns. And if it does, there’s plenty of times you’d see a slip and two guys around the batsman, and a leg slip – when spinners are bowling. But at times when the track doesn’t turn, there’s little Dhoni can do except resort to shitty tactics. Think about it this way: he knows very well what he is doing, and knows the media is going to criticize him for that. He still goes ahead and does it, because he has made the judgment call that that’s the best way to stay in the game. There’s nothing insipid about that. It takes a brave man to adopt slow tactics in a T20 mad country. MS understands that no matter how good a poker player you are, you’ve got to fold a 2,7.

    3. This thing about fatalism relates to my point about heroes. I watched India a fair bit in their ascent to test #1, and often their body language was awful. But a knock from Sehwag or Laxman, or a spell from Ishant or Zaheer, would see them through

    4. It does take a brave man to adopt slow tactics in that environment, but we’re talking about persisting with them when they really don’t seem to be working.

      We don’t expect him to bring in three slips or owt. We just wonder whether there’s anything else he could do and also to what extent his lack of faith in his pace bowlers (however justifiable) compounds the problem.

  5. Great question.
    Part of this is abiut field setting and bowling changes. Part is about setting the mood etc.
    Re field setting, i think one can only comment on games one has been to. On tv you cant see the fields, so your information is second hand. And, of course, plans are devised by coaches and seniors. Not just the captain.
    The games i’ve been to i’ve been really struck by the quality of the fields set up front. And the clever lines and angles india attacked england with. When kp is smashing big-spinning jaffas off the back foot for 6 over cover there isnt much you can do.
    I have no idea about the quality of his bowling changes.

    Re ‘creating the mooood’. There’s no doubt that, while sometimes he sets a high standard from behind the stumps, communicating urgency, more often he doesnt. There is something here about the culture if indian cricket. A culture of heroes winning games, not teams. But other captains have brought more fire. But who can blame him for not giving much away. I think captaining India might be the hardest job in cricket

    1. We more or less agree with that second paragraph, particularly the final sentence. We’re probably just asking to what degree he’s responsible for the apparent weakness of the Indian attack.

      People do tend to blame only the bowlers, but there’s more to it than just placing the field and making bowling changes.

    2. I think he had good plans for England, but Cook and KP outplayed them.

      At Mumbai, Ojha was on early to bowl at cook. Left arm round the wicket, trying to bowl middle and off to hit middle and off.
      Slip, deep backward point (for the bad ball), mid off, deepish mid on, short leg, fine leg, deep forward square keg and two single savers on the leg side. It looked like it would be very hard for cook to score.
      Cook ran down the wicket and hit him over his head.
      No one could have predicted that.

  6. I think he is treading a very careful path through a minefield of political and cultural problems not least the country’s obsession with batting over bowling.

    1. …and indeed many of the tactics being debated here have Fletcher’s fingerprints all over them.

      I don’t think Dhoni is an insipid captain. He’s just not a hugely inspired one. And indeed (as other have pointed out) he lacks the breadth of ammunition that would allow inspired captaincy to succeed, if indeed he were to be inspired.

  7. MS wasn’t like this sometimes back when India was winning everything. After a few debacles people start questioning his tactics and he just stuck to them for proving them wrong. Case of Jadeja comes to my mind.

    Although something has to be said about the utter ineffectiveness of Indian attack , Pace attack was never good and more recently the spin attack also seem to have gone the same way.

  8. Nathan Lyon is currently batting his side to safety in the test – it’s all a matter now of when Clarke declares. Interestingly, this is Lyon’s 5th last wicket stand of 40 or more in the last three years. You never know – the day might come when Australia is a reasonable enough team for these stands to actually matter.

  9. I agree with you completely KC. India have drawn test matches we should have won (Cape Town, 2010), and lost test matches we should have drawn because of Dhoni’s unimaginative and defensive captaincy.

    Yes, the bowlers are not great, but with Dhoni not willing to change things at all and letting games drift away, bowlers continue to be not great (read ‘shit’) through the length of their spells. They aren’t asked to think differently, or to ask different questions. I also agree with Uday when he says that Dhoni isn’t keen on man management.

    Yes, the odd good spell or the odd good innings will win us some test matches, but to win more consistently, with what is little more than an average test team today, we need a creative and aggressive captain.

  10. One thing though – Dhoni is lucky. That his Club owner became BCCI president. He does get the odd series win and/or a century just when the head is there for the chop.
    A win in this series and his acolytes in India media and his fans will hail him as the greatest ever captain in Cricket history again(Trust me, they did after India ascended to #1).

    8-0, 1-2 at home will all be forgotten…as Napoleon said, give me lucky generals

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