BCCI was reluctant to introduce split captaincy for long, but in 2007 Indian cricket for the first time had the taste of split captaincy. After the first-round exit from the ICC World Cup in West Indies and the World T20 triumph in South Africa suggested that MS Dhoni was obviously the man to lead India. However, there were some doubts over giving the Test reins to him so early. That’s why Anil Kumble stepped in to lead the Test team.
It was for the first time in Indian cricket, a Test captain was appointed keeping in mind his term would not last for long. Kumble’s legendary career was in the twilight zone, and his short spell as Test skipper was only to give Dhoni some time to prepare for a longer run thereafter.
The decision worked out quite impressively, with Kumble leading from the front against Pakistan at home and then away in Australia. The abroad series, in particular, needed a firm statesman to stand tall, as certain events disrupted the momentum, and that Australia tour was maybe a definitive marker as per his leadership abilities. Dhoni, on the other hand, was on a learning curve and preparing himself for the hard way. The basic aspect of this relationship was respected. With Gary Kirsten also appointed as coach, the process looked simpler for everybody involved; they all started to work together like a family, for a definitive blueprint for the future.
Almost nine years after, now life looks to be on the brink of a full circle for these two men – Kumble and Dhoni. Once again Indian cricket faces a new regime, a new coach who will shape the near future with Virat Kohli.
Dhoni also has a role to play again, but it’s quite clear that he is already winding down the international quest and Anil Kumble will have to play the balancing role, in the process creating a new chapter regarding the captain-coach relationship.
India’s limited-overs record over the past two years may play a vital role. The 3-0 ODI series win in Zimbabwe was India’s first since the 5-0 home victory against Sri Lanka in November 2014. Since then, they had the chance to celebrate only a semi-final finish at the 2015 ODI World Cup in Australia, while losing in the preceding tri-series against Australia and England, then humiliated in Bangladesh, losing to South Africa at home, and again away in Australia. But they T20Is say completely different results, enjoying a winning spree before losing in the semi-finals of the 2016 World T20 once again. The World T20 at home, was a must-win campaign, especially for players bred on IPL, but they failed.
However, the significant impact of these recent statistics destroys the image of the captain more than the coach. Dhoni might be sick of the retirement questions, and that’s why the line of questioning had remarkably turned around ahead of the Zimbabwe tour. When questioned about Ravi Shastri’s viewpoint that Kohli should be captain in all formats, Dhoni simply replied, “It is the BCCI’s call.”
Of course, it’s the board’s decision, but it’s also about getting the timing right. Crucially enough, India’s former team director, who was once the frontrunner to become India’s next head coach, had said as much.
We don’t know, if Kumble has the same view as Ravi Shastri but the squad for that short Zimbabwe tour clearly reflected the point, selectors have already started to plan for the 2017 Champions Trophy and the 2019 World Cup, both to be held in England.
So, here come the most important questions. The next World Cup is three years from now on, so does Dhoni himself believe that he will be part of the Indian team then? If yes, then in which role — as a wicketkeeper-batsman or as captain?
If he doesn’t seek to lead the team in three years’ time, is MS Dhoni worth to be selected as a player alone, assuming he will have no problem to continue playing under Virat Kohli?
The ODI and T20 series wins in Zimbabwe will surely give Dhoni at least some space to breath. Sadly this is how Indian cricket works. Not to mention he will get ample time to revitalize himself before India’s next ODI series at home against New Zealand in the last week of October.
But when the selection committee will sit to discuss it, they will demand answers to these crucial questions. By then Anil Kumble, the new coach will certainly have spoken on the current ODI/T20I skipper’s future.
To summarize, for a moment just put aside the West Indies tour, or the tight schedule of home Tests, or even the Champions Trophy next summer, clearing out MS Dhoni’s future seems one of the biggest challenges Kumble will have to face in his one-year term.