Calcutta: Mahendra Singh Dhoni was almost fighting a lone battle. The Indian captain has too often been the easy target of critics whenever the team failed. But he now has a formidable icon by his side.
Former England captain Geoffrey Boycott has come out in support of Dhoni and, for a change, has dared to criticise the captain's critics.
Boycott, typically, didn't hide his views and came out all guns blazing terming the Indian team "very average" at the moment. He said the team is "lucky" to have a captain like Dhoni, who is taking the blame for "lack of quality in the side".
"...Do you judge captains on their win and loss ratio, or do you take into account the quality, or lack of quality, in his team? If you're thinking about India, there's a lack of quality at the moment, lack of quality seam bowling, lack of quality spin bowling, and in some cases your best players are beginning to retire after getting past their sell-by date. Aren't they?" Boycott was quoted as saying by a cricket website.
"(Rahul) Dravid and (VVS) Laxman are gone, (Sachin) Tendulkar hasn't got any runs recently, so is it his [Dhoni's] fault?," he asked.
"I don't think so. I don't judge people on the win and loss ratio of the team. You have to look at the team. You are damn lucky you've got MS Dhoni," he asserted.
Boycott said Dhoni has his limitations as a Test captain but the Indians don't have a quality replacement at the moment. "I think he is a brilliant one-day captain. Like a lot of people, I think he has good leadership skills of the players but, tactically, in Test matches, there's quite a bit to be desired. But you haven't got anybody else you can call upon," he explained.
"A nice set of lads, but in terms of other quality sides around the world, you are very average and you are not going to win with average teams. And the captains always get blamed. Captains tend to get plaudits when the team wins, which I think is unfair," Boycott said.
He also said that Dhoni cannot be held responsible for the slide because India are a team in transition at the moment. "...The captain always gets the blame when you lose. It's like in the war, losing generals always got the sack. It's like that with Dhoni; because India have hit a sticky situation, with some of the best players retiring or getting to the end of their careers... Zaheer Khan's gone, Harbhajan's gone, Dravid and Laxman have gone, Sachin is towards the end of his career," he pointed out.
"It's very difficult to replace players like that with young kids and do well, and Dhoni's getting the flak for it, he's getting the blame. I don't think it's Dhoni's fault. So you've to be careful about blaming people for the lack of quality in the side," he said.
Talking about other Indian players, Boycott said star opener Virender Sehwag, who has been dropped from the ongoing ODI series against England, was lucky to hold on to his place for so long. The Englishman felt Gautam Gambhir was also fortunate to be continuing despite deteriorating technically.
"Sehwag is lucky to be in the team, really. He's an explosive, fascinating, unpredictable, brilliant batsman, absolutely keeps you on the edge of your seats. But, I'm afraid, father time comes to everybody, and he's getting towards the end."
"And Gambhir, he seems to have played so much one-day cricket that his technique has suffered, he's getting himself out, I don't think he's the force as a player as he once was," Boycott said.
"As a batsman, he is still a good player, but his technique has suffered. He's making mistakes himself so it's not going to help putting himself forward as a captain, as a Test player who can be certain of his place in the side," he added.
On the promising Virat Kohli being seen as India's next captain, Boycott said the youngster still has quite a distance to cover before emerging as leadership material.
"...He's too much of a firebrand and all. You want his passion, you want his emotion, you definitely want that from your players but, I'm sorry, you want a cool head at times. That's what Dhoni has and Kohli hasn't got a cool head," he said.
"He's got aggression, passion, emotion. On the negative side, he loses his cool. You can't have the captain losing his cool."