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Dhoni faces a variety of challenges

Dhoni must tell the youngsters to look first towards Test cricket, writes Peter Roebuck

Mahendra Dhoni faces a variety of challenges as he leads the Indian team in the one-day series. Not only must he replace a respected elder, repair relations between two cricketing nations, build spirit in a foreign land, charm local supporters and win matches. He must also display the wisdom needed to prevent his young charges losing their heads.

Barely worth his place in the Test side after patchy form with the bat, he must prove that he understands Test cricket is paramount, fifty over cricket is next and twenty over matches are a light-hearted romp that ought not to define a cricketer or his community. Otherwise recent victories in the shorter versions of the game will do more harm than good.

India cricket faces a formidable threat to its production line of players and Dhoni is the man best placed to keep things in check.

Overwhelming celebrations

Celebrations of India’s victory in the inaugural T20 tournament in South Africa were so overwhelming that it may have turned young heads. Players from the winning side were given posh cars and six hitters were paid for every lusty blow they sent rising over the boundary.

As far as developing cricketers is concerned, it was all madness. Indeed it was destructive. Unless care is taken the cart will start pulling the horse.

Apparently some of the players from that victorious team subsequently enjoyed mixed fortunes in Ranji Trophy cricket.

Astute followers suggest that they were no longer concentrating as hard on domestic form, merely biding their time till the next T20 or ODI tournament.

They know that national heroes cannot be dropped. A more generous interpretation is that they were feted so frequently that they have been unable to regain full fitness or form.

If India is wise it will keep Twenty20 in its place. Yes, it is exciting but it is also lightweight. Certainly its champions display power and nerve but the game lacks substance. If batsmen think only about twenty over cricket they will never learn to build an innings or to play off both feet or to counter the moving ball or to show patience. Once wickets do not matter as much, the game loses most of its meaning.

Yuvraj’s fate

Consider the fate suffered by Yuvraj Singh in Australia. Arriving as the mighty man of the twenty over format, he lacked the technique and temperament needed to deal with demanding bowling on a firm pitch. Once he had to think and defend his wickets he was lost. Had Yuvraj been dropped for the Sydney Test, the Indians might well have squared the series. Might not Dinesh Karthick or Virender Sehwag have lasted 10 minutes longer?

Dhoni needs to grasp these points. Far from being an old fogey or a blue blood, he is glamorous and respected and the younger players will listen to him. He must tell them to ignore short cuts and to look first towards Test cricket. Ishant Sharma has shown that it can be done. He established himself as a Test match pace bowler and then claimed his place in the limited over side. Meanwhile rivals were nursing injuries. The same must apply to the next generation of batsmen. Dhoni must educate them not to be misled by the riches and the glory so that they do not spend their entire careers skimming the surface of this game. Otherwise India will run out of Test match cricketers even as it rejoices. It’s no good winning a battle only to lose the war.

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